13 He went out again beside the sea; and all the crowd gathered about him, and he taught them. 14 And as he passed on, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, "Follow me." And he rose and followed him. 15 And as he sat at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were sitting with Jesus and his disciples; for there were many who followed him. 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
Meditation: What draws us to the throne of God's mercy and
grace? Mark tells us that many people were drawn to Jesus,
including the unwanted and the unlovable, such as the lame, the
blind, and the lepers, as well as the homeless such as widows and
orphans. But public sinners, like the town prostitutes and corrupt
tax collectors, were also drawn to Jesus. In calling Levi, who was
also named Matthew (see Matthew 9:9) to be one of his disciples,
Jesus picked one of the unlikeliest of men - a tax collector who
by profession was despised by the people.
Why did the religious leaders find fault with Jesus for making friends with sinners and tax collectors like Levi? The orthodox Jews had a habit of dividing everyone into two groups - those who rigidly kept the law of Moses and its minute regulations and those who did not. They latter were treated like second class citizens. The orthodox scrupulously avoided their company, refused to do business with them, refused to give or receive anything from them, refused to intermarry, and avoided any form of entertainment with them, including table fellowship. Jesus' association with sinners shocked the sensibilities of these orthodox Jews.
When the Pharisees challenged his unorthodox behavior in eating with public sinners, Jesus' defense was quite simple. A doctor doesn't need to visit healthy people; instead he goes to those who are sick. Jesus likewise sought out those in the greatest need. A true physician seeks healing of the whole person - body, mind, and spirit. Jesus came as the divine physician and good shepherd to care for his people and to restore them to wholeness of life.The orthodox Jews were so preoccupied with their own practice of religion that they neglected to help the very people who needed care. Their religion was selfish because they didn't want to have anything to do with people not like themselves.
Jesus stated his mission in unequivocal terms: I came not to call the righteous, but to call sinners. Ironically the orthodox were as needy as those they despised. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Lord fills us with his grace and mercy. And he wants us, in turn, to seek the good of our neighbors, including the unlikeable and the trouble-maker by showing them the same kindness and mercy which we have received. Do you thank the Lord for the great kindness and mercy he has shown to you?
2 You have given him his heart's desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips. [Selah]
3 For you meet him with goodly blessings; you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
4 He asked life of you; you gave it to him, length of days for ever and ever.
5 His glory is great through your help; splendor and majesty you bestow upon him.
6 Yes, you make him most blessed for ever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the LORD; and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: No physician can avoid the arena of sickness, by Gregory of Nazianzus (330 - 390 AD)
"When Jesus is attacked for mixing with sinners, and taking as
his disciple a despised tax collector, one might ask: What could
he possibly gain by doing so? (Luke 15:2) Only the salvation of
sinners. To blame Jesus for mingling with sinners would be like
blaming a physician for stooping down over suffering and putting
up with vile smells in order to heal the sick." (excerpt
from ORATION 45, ON HOLY EASTER 26)