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October 17, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: ‘Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ On hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”—Mark 2:15–17 (NIV)
I don’t like going to the doctor. I mean, honestly, who does? Who likes being poked, prodded, swabbed, and examined? Full confession: I don’t typically get an annual checkup. Intellectually, I know I should go because if there is something amiss, early detection could be the difference between life and death. But if I’m not sick or feeling sick, I don’t see the need for a doctor’s visit.
Today, I want to submit an interesting premise to you about this passage. But before that, let’s examine what’s going on here. Jesus had just called Matthew (or Levi) to be His disciple. And like Peter, Andrew, John, and James before him earlier in this chapter, Matthew left everything behind . . . his former life in his dubious position as a tax collector—someone hated by the Jews, seen as a traitor and collaborator with Rome in their oppression.
After having committed his life to following Jesus, Matthew had Jesus and a few others over for a meal at his home. But the Pharisees again took exception with Jesus’ ways. They were upset at the company He was keeping. “Tax collectors and sinners” they called them. They didn’t understand why Jesus would associate with these people whom they deemed irredeemable and unworthy of God’s kingdom. And as usual, Jesus takes them to task, saying, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Now, here’s my premise: When Jesus stated, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,” He was in fact referring to everyone in that room! Sometimes, we see this verse and we want to interpret it as “Oh, Jesus is saying He didn’t come for the Pharisees.” But those interpretations are wrong, because the Pharisees and the tax collector were sinners, unworthy of God’s kingdom, sentenced to death because of their sin. Remember, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10 NIV). Whether they saw themselves in this light or not, the Pharisees needed Jesus just like the tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, priests, Romans, Greeks, and everyone in between, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).
But here’s the beautiful thing: Jesus tells them that He came for them, and for us, and for everyone, no matter how unworthy, sinful, and evil we may deem them! He came for sinners, because “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24 NIV) and “God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace [we] have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4–5 NIV).
PAUSE: How do Jesus’ words here change the way you think about others, particularly those you have troubling loving? How should His statement cause you to see difficult people, criminals, terrorists, and people who believe differently than you in a new light?
PRACTICE: Pray this week for a group of people you have trouble loving. Ask the Lord to soften your heart to them, to work in their lives, and to work in your life as well.
PRAY: Father, today I thank You that I was included in Jesus’ statement. I thank You that I am counted amongst those Jesus said He came to call. Thank You for loving me and saving me. Amen.
Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.