When 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).
Oh how wrong these guys were! Their perceptions of God were so warped! And of themselves! They conveniently categorised people into “sinners” and “righteous” and, of course, you know which group they fell into. From their point of view, who were the “righteous”? They believed that they were the model of righteousness because they “kept” the law. And their “God” was pleased with them and oh, so displeased with the sinners and tax collectors.
Then Jesus comes along and turns their religion on its head. First He throws demons out and touches lepers. Then He calls all the wrong people to be His disciples. Then He forgives sin as though He were God. Worse still, now He eats with tax collectors and sinners, and the Pharisees knew what that meant. You just don’t eat with people who come from the wrong side of town. To eat with them meant that they were buddies. They had no issues with each other. How could a man who claimed to be God be buddies with those people?
They didn’t have the guts to tackle Jesus, so they tackled His disciples instead. “Why does He eat with the likes of them? Doesn’t He know how it offends us?’ (implied), as though that were the most important consideration. What did it have to do with them anyway? He was free to eat with anyone He chose and was not answerable to them.
Jesus overheard the question and He was indignant. Before the disciples had a chance to put their foot in their mouths, He answered for Himself. He needed no one to defend Him. He didn’t even need to defend Himself but, to get their thinking straight, He put them in their place. “Who goes to the doctor? The sick or the well? I didn’t come to pat well people on the back. I came to bring healing to sick people. It’s obvious that you guys have got it all wrong. You think there’s nothing wrong with you. These people know they are sick, and I can do something for them, but not for you.”
What kind of a God was He representing? One who condoned the sinful lives of the ‘irreligious” people and condemned the ones who tried so hard to impress Him by their “good” lives? They just did not understand. What people could see about them was far more important than what went on inside. It was okay for them to be full of pride about their own achievements and full of contempt for those who didn’t measure up to their standard.
Jesus smartly put them in their place and, once again they had no answer. Round two: Jesus, one; Pharisees, nil. This was getting embarrassing. They should be learning fast that no one takes Jesus on and wins. If they knew what was good for them, they should have kept their mouths shut and their ears open but, unfortunately for them, the lesson was lost on them . . . again!
Just as much as it was embarrassing for the Pharisees, it was encouraging for the ones they despised. Jesus not only ate with the sinners, a sign that He was very comfortable with them and had nothing against them, but He actually defended what He did. It’s no wonder they flocked after Him. No one else championed them, especially not a prominent rabbi like He was.
Don’t let the lesson be lost on us either. Jesus does not condone sin, but He does not condemn the sinner. Every person, apart from what they do, has value to God because He created us in His image. Jesus came to rescue us from destroying ourselves by following our own way. He came to call sinners away from their old stubborn self-will to follow Him. He is the way to Father and He wants to take us to Him . . . whoever we are.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
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