All this talk about teachers of the law and the Pharisees and you might be thinking, what does this have to do with me? I have been reflecting on this passage and I realize there is a lot more religion in my life than I care to admit. Earlier, I shared how religious people are bold, they are unbiblical, and they are unloving. But the scariest part of being religious is you stop realizing your need for Jesus.
15While 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. 16When 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’?” 17On 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)
In this passage, the Pharisees are critical of Jesus for eating with tax collectors and “sinners.” They were probably a seedy group, possibly including prostitutes and partyers and drunkards. And looking at that crowd, it’s not hard to imagine why these “holy men,” the Pharisees, were sitting in the judgment seat and determining who was worthy to be saved. And in their estimation, the group Jesus is hanging out with was clearly beyond help. And these religious people were critical of Jesus for associating with this rag tag group of misfits and outcasts.
You have to be careful if you are trying to be holier than Jesus. Because that’s what religious people end up doing. They look at their rules and regulations and they judge others more harshly than Jesus does. Their religion has saved them and people’s lack of religion and overt sinful acts, they believe, have condemned them. Their religion has made them worthy of God’s favor and those who could care less about going to the temple, God must have cursed.
And Jesus, as he always does, provides a cutting indictment against their religion. He says, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Not only does religion make people bold, unbiblical and loveless, it also is one of the gravest sins. Because it gives us the illusion that we are healthy. We are not that sick. Those other guys, they are the sick ones. Me, I’m fine the way I am. Look how hard I am working to be holy and study the Scriptures.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees should not be surprised that Jesus is hanging out with that crowd because Jesus is the Great Physician and it is a doctor’s job is to hang out with sick people. That’s what doctors do. And if you are self-righteous because of religion, then you don’t really have anything to do with Jesus.
Let’s recognize our tendency to be religious. Esp. the longer you have been a Christian, the temptation is greater. Because we have gotten good at religion. We know the Bible. We’ve gone through the religious motions of coming together for Sunday worship and Bible studies for many, many years. And as you become more religious, we fool ourselves that we are quite healthy.
I want to remind myself and all of us that whether you are doing drugs in the inner city or you are faithful at the church thing, we are still all sinners. Those sinners out there might be addicted to drugs or alcohol, but religious people are addicted to self-righteousness. Those out there might be addicted to pornography or greed, but religious people are addicted to their reputation. What’s the difference? To God, it is all sin. And in some ways, the drug addict is in a better position to meet Jesus because at least he knows he is a sinner. He recognizes that he is sick and that’s a start.
For those of us in the church, it is much harder to admit that we are sinners in need of Jesus because we believe our religion has made us healthy.
It is my prayer that all of us will connect with the real Jesus, our Great Physician. He loves us, he is pursuing us, he wants to heal us and forgive us of our sins. All we need to do is to admit that we are sick. That we need Jesus this morning and each day of our lives.