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  • John Bryant

Mark 2:13-17--To Serve is to Withhold Oneself

13 He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”


If there’s something I’ve thought a lot about its how to depend on Christ. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve made it too stunningly simple for myself, that I've made an idol of its great simplicity: to depend on Crucified, Risen, and Returning Christ though hearing, in prayer, and by offering. To depend on His Word through hearing. To depend on His Spirit in prayer. To depend on His Fellowship by offering.

The hardest of the three, perhaps: to depend on His Fellowship. What a task, what a thing that has hurt so many and for so long. We often make it easy on ourselves to think we are a part of things, a part of the fellowship, by serving, by being helpful, by being useful. We think: yes, I will protect myself, I will withhold myself, I will give the church my usefulness.


We think we offer ourselves by serving. But I don't think we do. I think we offer ourselves when we accept invitations to sit. When we offer ourselves to other’s invitations.

True service, I argue, is to accept others’ offer to sit down, to sit with them.


Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” And with this, I think, he was not just denouncing Pharisees. He was extending to them an invitation, and invitation to understand themselves as sinners. He was inviting them to sit with sinners so they could sit with Him. In order to sit with Him, you have to sit with sinners.


In the last passage, the forgiveness of sins was the mending of a distortion, the pulling of broken and severed things back into joint and into healing. Here, the forgiveness of sins is a feast where one eats and where one is seen and is with others.


How strange it might seem, to understand forgiveness as accepting Christ offer to sit down with others sinners, not because you can help them, but because you are them.

Each week there are people I see, people who ask me to sit down. I often count myself too busy. Perhaps too important. Each Friday there are tables outside the local church I work with. Coffee, chairs, the invitation to sit. What might we find if we saw ourselves as sinners whose greatest act of service would be to accept the invitation to sit down, to offer ourselves as sinners who’ve been invited to sit, to accept the offer to sit. To find Christ there with us. To have the forgiveness of sins as this feast where one eats, one is seen, and one is with others.



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