Jesus spent a lot of his time hanging around undesirable folks, not with "good" people like us. I mean here in today's gospel lesson we have the story of his calling Matthew, the tax collector (Matthew 9:9). Of course, most of us have our hang-ups with taxes. But in the eastern part of the Roman Empire in Jesus' day tax collectors were notorious for overcharging the taxed, often with harassment, and keeping the difference between what was actually owed and what was collected, for themselves. In short, they were regarded by many who lived in the Roman Empire as robbers, as crooks.
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Oscar Wilde penned a powerful story about behaviors and definitions and justice called The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian was a handsome young man, a model of physical beauty and moral virtue. People complimented him on his good graces. Parents pointed to him as an example to their youth. One artist even painted an exquisite portrait of him.
"Have you seen it?" whispered the Barbie doll to her next door neighbour.
The next Barbie doll in line was instantly alert. There were five different Barbie dolls, who lived jumbled together in the toy cupboard but who were so jealous of each other that they rarely spoke. "Seen what?" asked the second Barbie doll, blue eyes darting all round the room.
"The Princess," replied the first Barbie with glee. "Caitlin's done her hair and it looks terrible!"
These verses from Mark's gospel are a call to commitment, a call to sacrifice, and a call to give up everything of earthly value in life. To say these are difficult verses is truly an understatement. It is pretty clear that the disciples are not at all ready for what Jesus is saying. They are not ready for Jesus to die and they certainly are not ready to die themselves.