When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Jesus 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 2:16-17
Whenever I read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s life, I’m consistently struck by his ability to turn assumptions and value systems upside down. When we encounter Jesus, we learn that the things we thought were important and mattered most in this world are in fact so often out of step with his will and his coming Kingdom.
In the ancient world in which Jesus lived, the Pharisees were the religious faithful. As we would say today, they were “in church every Sunday.” They were the people who dedicated their entire lives to the pursuit of God and living by the law He gave to his people. Yet in their vigor and zeal they missed something profound: one can live entirely by the law of religion and miss the work of God in their midst and his invitation into radical, self-giving love.
We often speak of discipleship as a journey into Christ’s likeness. Yet, if we are honest, there are parts of Jesus’s life that make us incredibly uncomfortable. He spent most of his life in the parts of town that we seek to avoid. He hired co-workers in ministry that worked blue collar or socially unacceptable jobs. His closest friends were people who had been cast to the margins, men and women who were viewed as unlovable and unproductive members of society.
I can’t help but wonder if we are more like the Pharisees than we care to admit?
Do we cling to a system that says one’s worth and value in this world is dependent on how well they keep God’s rules or by how successful they are by economic and cultural standards? Though we might not say it, do we assume that God’s love and favor only rests upon those who “have it all together?”
The only response to the love of God shown to us in Jesus is to acknowledge that no one has it all together. Each and every person in God’s eyes is more needy than they know or want to admit. Yet each and every person is more cherished and loved by God than they can possibly imagine. When we acknowledge this, the walls that keep us separated from others begin to crumble. When we realize that we are just as needy as anyone else, the pride and self-righteousness that we have begins to fade, and the judgment and condemnation towards others that lives in our hearts can be seen for the sickness that it is.
May the Lord Jesus give us the grace to see others as fellow patients who, just like us, are in desperate need of the healing love of God.
Prayer: Father, forgive us for the times we have failed to love others as you love them, and for the times we have failed to see our own need of your grace and mercy.
Application: Are there ways that pharisaic judgment or self-righteousness have taken root in your heart?
Related Readings: Isaiah 61:1-2; Matthew 5:3, 25:31-40; Mark 10:21; Luke 6:20-21
By Tripp Prince