Shortly after his ministry got started, Jesus developed a reputation for spending time with the wrong kind of people. Two religious groups known as the Pharisees and the scribes made a point of criticizing Jesus for his lack of discretion in choosing his companions. In what may have seemed like a deliberate attempt to antagonize these two religious groups, Jesus chose as one of his disciples a man by the name of Levi, aka Matthew, who was a tax collector. Some of the local Jewish men were employed by Roman tax contractors to collect taxes for them. “Because they worked for Rome and often demanded unreasonable payments, the tax collectors gained a bad reputation and were generally hated and considered traitors” (note on Matthew 5:45). Matthew’s status as an outcast of society made him an unlikely candidate for Jesus’ close knit team of evangelists, but his friends were the target audience of Jesus’ teaching, and therefore, Matthew’s conversion clearly demonstrated to them that all were welcome in Jesus’ community of believers.
On one occasion, when Jesus and his disciples were eating at Matthew’s home, “many publicans and sinners sat also together with Jesus and his disciples” (Mark 2:15). At that time, sharing a meal with someone was a sign of friendship, and it also suggested that a union or association existed between all those who were invited into the home. As a sign of their disapproval of what Jesus was doing, it says in Mark 2:16, “when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?” Jesus’ response was a rebuke to the scribes and Pharisees hypocrisy, but it also identified an important difference between those who claimed to be God’s chosen people, and those who actually were. “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).
Jesus’ use of the contrasting terms whole and sick, and reference to himself as a physician emphasized his ability to diagnose and heal the ailments of the human heart. The Greek word translated sick, kakos (kak – oce´) means badly (2560). Kakos is derived from the word kakos (kak – os´) which means worthless (2556). “Kakos indicates the lack in a person or thing of those qualities which should be possessed and means bad in character morally, by way of thinking, feeling or acting.” Jesus’ claim to be able to heal or cure someone of his bad behavior was corroborated by the change that was evident in Matthew and his fellow tax collectors. It says in Mark 2:15 that these men “followed” Jesus. The Greek term translated followed, akoloutheo means to be in the same way with, suggesting a likeness or similarity in lifestyle and/or behavior (190). Repentance is not just a change of heart, but a reversal of the effects of a previous state of mind. In other words, when Matthew and his friends repented and became followers of Jesus, they not only walked away from their jobs as tax collectors, but also gave up the money and power their previous jobs afforded them.