“Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. 'Follow me,' Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. 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. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him 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: 13-17)
The Pharisees were angry because Jesus was more focused on the “sinners,” or the “sick” than he was on them. Being a tax collector was bad enough, but the “sinners” here were non-covenant Gentiles, the blatant sinners who were “wide of the mark." These were the people the Pharisees had been taught to despise, and Jesus had the audacity to spend a lot of time with them.
If I may paraphrase what was really behind the Pharisees' question to the disciples:“Look how cleaned up we are! Wouldn’t Jesus rather hang out with us? We have a great lineage, we actually know the law, and our sins are much, much closer to hitting the mark than theirs!”
And Jesus said (and once again I paraphrase), “Oh, wow! You really are amazing! If you’re that fine without me, carry on. I'll find those who see themselves honestly – they are the ones who are ready for me.”
Jesus is often called the Great Physician because of this claim. He used a common experience (doctors help the physically ill) to describe a spiritual reality (Jesus saves the spiritually sick). It's an analogy that hits close to home in a broken world.
1) A medical doctor desires to bring health, stability and hope to those who are hurting. Jesus offers to save us in ways a medical doctor never can; to bring stability and rest to our souls; to take even those who are dead in their sins and bring them back to life.
2) If you go to a doctor, you have to be honest about yourself if you want to get an honest diagnosis. You can’t say, “It hurts here!” when it actually hurts “there.” You shouldn’t lie if the doctor asks you background information. You have to tell the doctor what the problem is – which means honesty and humility. In our case, when we come to Christ for healing, we have to be honest about the problem: we are in trouble. Sure, we bear the scars of what others have done to us, but we are deeply sick.
This is not meant to be depressing. Once the problem is identified and acknowledged, healing can begin (think of this as confession and repentance). There is hope to be found on the other side of honesty. Typically, this involves a medical doctor saying something like, “I think I know what you have. I can offer you a cure. I can make you better.” Once again, Jesus, the Great Physician, offers us so much more:
“Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” Ezekiel 18:31-32
”Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord…” Acts 3:19
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 )
That’s good news! But what does this mean, exactly? Does it mean suddenly all the accumulated baggage of my life disappears? In a spiritual sense, yes. When we engage in honest repentance, God does supernatural work in which our sins are covered. He breaks the power of sin and He takes care of the eternal penalty of sin.
But we have established patterns, habits, ways of thinking and living that require “after care.” There will be follow up appointments – not because the physician has failed, but because God has allowed us to keep our free will, and we tend to undermine our own spiritual health.
3) Often, after a doctor makes you whole, you are given a set of instructions: “If you would like to enjoy this new health, you will need to participate with me in your new life.” This could include diet, exercise, medications, support groups, etc.
After Jesus brings in the new to replace the old, we also are told that there will be a change of direction in our lives. We will need to participate in our new-found spiritual health. The Apostle Paul said:
“I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:27)
4) If you’ve gone to the doctor and they healed you, you can’t help but tell others. “Hey, my doctor is amazing! I was sick, and now I'm not!” My physical therapist comes up in every conversation involving aching backs, because she fixed me once when no one else could. I see something similar happening after Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman:
“Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (John 4:28-30)
She couldn’t help it. She had found the One who could change her, who could make her new. That’s Someone to talk about. In the same way, we all have opportunities in normal conversations to let the presence of God flow out of us as we talk about what God can do in our lives.
Jesus is the Great Physician; only He offers ultimate salvation. But his patients - his disciples - have the privilege of providing the community in which the spiritually sick can experience restoration along with others to whom Jesus has brought healing and hope. We get to carry (and receive) the bandages and crutches as we, the walking wounded, continually seek the healing of the One who can truly make us whole.