“Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners” Mk. 2:17. Jesus made this remark after hearing some Scribes and Pharisees asking his disciples, why he would be eating with sinners and tax collectors. And what a remarkable response it is. It is an entire lesson in theology all by itself, directed at the religious leaders and the scholars of the law who considered themselves the keepers of the faith. Jesus expressed the truth here, the truth that really sets us free.
This scene is made even more ironic in that Jesus has just called Levi, a tax collector, to become one of his disciples. Tax collectors were despised by the people, not just because of the power they had to collect taxes for Rome, but because many of them were also cheats. They were often considered the lowest of the low in the society. Yet here is Jesus walking up to Levi at his customs post and simply saying to him, “Follow me” (verse 14). Jesus was not blinded by job titles, or prejudices of any kind. He looked at Levi and saw a sinner, yes, but one whose heart was hungry for healing, for something greater, something more meaningful. Levi does not hesitate. He immediately leaves his post, all the money, and all of the coercive power that was his and begins to follow Jesus.
By this time, Jesus had already caused a great stir among the people. His name and stories of his works, had gone on before him. He had just healed a paralytic and heard the Pharisees whispering accusations of blasphemy about him. And even though they witnessed something astounding when Jesus not only forgave the young man’s sins, but commanded him rise and walk, their pride blinded them from accepting the truth of who Jesus was. What the Pharisees were experiencing in their earthbound thinking was a challenge to their authority by this upstart teacher and miracle worker. They thought that they were the holy ones, the healthy ones, and those that Jesus ate with and called, and those he healed, were worthless sinners.
But Jesus reveals the shallowness of their theology and the breadth of their arrogance with a seemingly simple statement. “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” That word righteous is important here. If one is truly righteous with God, one is already healthy and does not need a physician. But the fact is that we are all sinners in need of the Physician. Jesus knew that the Scribes and the Pharisees, were not righteous, but “self-righteous.” These words of Jesus were directed at them. Only the self-righteous, those who pridefully consider themselves sinless, would see those words as an insult. He was challenging them to see their own hypocrisy. We forget that Jesus came for all people. Yes, even the Scribes and Pharisees among us. It is not until we see that we are sinners, though, that we see and experience our deep need for the One who can heal all of our wounds. Jesus does not hate the Scribes and Pharisees. He loves them too. He said these things to them to challenge them to see the error of their own ways. But, because of their blind pride, they could only hear Jesus’ words as insult. They responded not with serious self-reflection, but with self-righteous anger. We must not be guilty of doing the same.
Lord, we are sinners in need of your great mercy. You are our Physician, the One who heals all of our wounds. We praise you, we thank you, and we glorify you for your loving kindness toward us. Help us to always know our need for your healing forgiveness. We pray in your blessed name, Jesus. Amen!
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