In the accounts of Jesus’ life, there’s a curious exchange he has with the religious leaders. Although he has many such interactions, this is perhaps the most perplexing.
He tells them sick people don’t need a doctor. True. Then he makes a parallel assertion that his purpose isn’t to help good people (the “righteous”) but bad people (the “sinners”).
What does this mean?
1. Is he implying the religious leaders are healthy and in no need of his help, that they’re doing fine by adhering to their traditions? While it’s true that following their laws could be sufficient, they would need to do so perfectly. This is humanly impossible.
2. This could be a sarcastic statement, calling them good (righteous) when everyone — including themselves — knew it wasn’t true, that they fell short of God’s standard as well.
3. Jesus could have meant, that since the religious leaders considered themselves to be healthy, there was nothing he could do for them. Although they were really sick, he couldn’t be their doctor until they admitted they were ill.
We all need a doctor, but are we willing to admit it?
[Mark 2:17, Luke 5:31-32]
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus came for the sick. (Since he came to heal and to save, we may be able to comprehend this both literally and figuratively, that is, the physically sick and the spiritually sick.) Jesus came for sinners — those who miss the mark.
Conversely, Jesus did not come for the healthy, the righteous. What exactly does that mean? Perhaps:
- People who are righteous (good and law-abiding) don’t need Jesus. (Is Jesus implying their path is through the Old Testament covenant and following the Law of Moses?)
- People who think they are on the right track will never know they need Jesus, so he is dismissing them.
- Everyone needs Jesus, but some people delude themselves, thinking they are the exception.
None of these ideas is an adequate explanation for me of what this text means. Although the first one seems heretical, it is also the most direct understanding of Jesus’ actual words. The other two responses require an interjection of ideas, some assumptions to be made — of basically reading the text through our own theological glasses.
Fortunately, I don’t need to understand this text completely. What I do know is I need a doctor — and his name is Jesus.
[Mark 2:17, Matthew 9:12-13, and Luke 5:31-32]