Befriending Sinners for Their Salvation | Mark 2:15–17
15 And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining 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.”
A friend of tax-collectors and sinners! This is the accusation the self-righteous would hurl at Jesus (Mt 11:19). It may not make sense to us, but you must consider the world in which the Jews had been living.
After the Greeks had swept through the world and imported new temptations to sin, the faithful successfully fought for the cause of righteousness. That priestly class came to be the Pharisees, and they became the standard of righteousness for the people. Their traditions became as important as the Law of Moses, and they stated that no one should fellowship with compromised people. And Jesus ate with them.
Sinners are Christ’s mission. He’s not offended by the title, “friend of sinners,” because He’ll call all who come to Him to repentance (Lk 5:32). The Great Physician treats the sick, and back in 1:15, we saw His mission was preaching repentance. The irony is that, if these present scribes cared for the people of Israel as they claimed to be, they would be doing exactly what Jesus is doing. Sadly, that’s not the only irony here.
People are not as righteous as they think themselves to be. They may have been professionally righteous, but they were not positionally righteous before God. Jesus isn’t affirming their righteousness over the tax-collectors (though they may think so in their pride—cf. Lk 18:14). They aren’t righteous enough, and we all need a personal righteousness that surpasses theirs (Mt 5:20).
We all practice self-righteousness, not realizing we have much need of repentance. We even need to repent of our repentance—but Jesus will have fellowship with those seeking Him (Js 4:6). Indeed, God grants us righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ (Rm 3:22). Praise God for unmerited grace in Christ, and by it, be a friend of sinners who also want to learn repentance.