While 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 (Mark 2:15)
This evidently was a farewell dinner Matthew gave for his friends, his tax-collecting buddies. He was saying farewell to his work and friends and leaving to follow Jesus. It was also an opportunity to introduce them to his newfound Lord.
What a collection of rascals must have been there that day! All the tax collectors of the city, all the sinners, all the despised social outcasts were sitting there. As the scribes of the Pharisees passed by and saw Jesus in the midst of it all, they were absolutely scandalized! It was obvious that He was the friend of these men. He was not lecturing them. He was sitting among them and eating and drinking with them. The scribes were simply appalled at this and called the disciples aside: “Why does He do things like that? Doesn’t He know who these people are?”
Jesus’ answer is very revealing. He actually agrees with their remarks. He says, in effect, “You’re right, these are sick, hurting, troubled men. Their style of life has damaged them deeply. They don’t see life rightly; they are covering up many evils; they are false in many ways. You’re right, these are sick men. But where else would a doctor be?”
He says something to them that turns their gaze back toward themselves. He says,” I came to call not the righteous, but sinners.” That is, those who think they are righteous, as these Pharisees did, are actually more needy than those they regard as social outcasts. These Pharisees were actually more deeply disturbed than the tax collectors and sinners, but they did not know it. But Jesus was saying to them, To those who think they’re righteous, I have absolutely nothing to say. But to these who know they’re sick and are open for help, I am fully available as a minister to their souls.
Our Lord made several things emphatically clear by this reply. First, He indicated strongly that when people think they have no need of help from God, they are in no position to be helped. There is nothing to say to them. But our Lord always put His efforts where men and women were open to help, where they were hurting so much they knew they needed help.
The second thing our Lord reveals is that people are more important than prejudice. Prejudices are preconceived notions formed before we have sufficient knowledge, usually mistaken or distorted ideas with which we have grown up. When prejudices are in opposition to the needs of people, they are to be swept aside without any hesitation. We Christians must learn to treat people like Jesus–regardless of what their outward appearance may be.
Do we need to repent of the self-righteous judging that separates us from God’s forgiveness for our own sins, and from caring compassion toward other sinners?
(RAY STEDMAN MINISTRIES)