He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 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. 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. 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?” 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.”
II. The Reaction of the Self-Righteous to Sinners: They hate them. (v. 16)
a. The self-righteous were shocked by the crowd
Unfortunately the majority of the people did not share Jesus’ love for sinners. In v. 16 Mark tells us that a new group of people had arrived on the scene: “And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors….” So, as Jesus was eating with this rough crowd the scribes of the Pharisees arrived on the scene. These guys were serious business. They weren’t just any old Pharisees, and they weren’t just any old scribes. These “scribes of the Pharisees” represented a small group of “professional scribes, whose concern, even more than that of Pharisees in general, was to ensure correct observance of the law.” These guys were probably the same guys who have been following Jesus around trying to find fault with Him (2:6-7; Luke 5:17). They were specialist brought out to find a charge that could be brought against Jesus. And when these sticklers of the law showed up and saw Jesus eating with these people their jaws must have hit the floor. Twice in this verse Mark records that they either thought to themselves or verbally mentioned that Jesus was “eating” with these guys. This shows us just how shocked they were. They were beside themselves. You can almost hear them, “He is eating with those guys! I can’t believe He is eating with them! Why is He eating with them?”
To make things worse, in the Jewish culture it was very important who you ate with—especially to the religious elite. There are numerous dietary regulations and rules in the Old Testament. But in addition to these rules and regulations the religious elite had added many additional regulations. In other words, tradition was made more important than the teaching of Scripture. This practice is described in some detail by Mark in 7:1-13:
Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Jesus recognized the sinfulness of this practice in Mark 7, and we see it here in Mark 2 as well. These scribes, being self-righteous men who valued their own standards above Scripture, were appalled that Jesus would break their regulations and eat with this crowd. In fact, they probably did not even enter the house of Levi where the feast was going on. If they had entered the house they would have been unclean by their own standards. They just stayed outside and, as we will see in the second half of this verse, they criticized Jesus.