Calling the Sick: Mark 2:13-17

Focus Passage: Mark 2:13-17 (NCV)

13 Jesus went to the lake again. The whole crowd followed him there, and he taught them. 14 While he was walking along, he saw a man named Levi son of Alphaeus, sitting in the tax collector’s booth. Jesus said to him, “Follow me,” and he stood up and followed Jesus.

15 Later, as Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” were eating there with Jesus and his followers. Many people like this followed Jesus. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Jesus eating with the tax collectors and “sinners,” they asked his followers, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

17 Jesus heard this and said to them, “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to invite good people but to invite sinners.”

Read Mark 2:13-17 in context and/or in other translations on BibleGateway.com!

During one of the meals Jesus ate with people that society had rejected, we find a fascinating and profound statement. After Jesus has invited Levi (Matthew) to be one of His disciples, Levi invites the group over to his home for supper.

It is during this meal that some Pharisees notice what is happening and they are quick to challenge the situation. The Pharisees call some of Jesus’ followers over and ask them, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (v. 16b)

In some ways, this was meant to be a trap for the followers, but Jesus was too aware of what was happening to avoid jumping into the challenge. Overhearing what was being asked and implied, Jesus replied to the Pharisees saying, “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to invite good people but to invite sinners.” (v. 17)

This statement could easily be seen as an insult to Matthew, all of Matthew’s tax collector friends, and even all Jesus’ current followers. By making the comparison that He does, Jesus is identifying those who He is choosing to associate with as sick and sinners.

Not only that, but in a subtle way, Jesus actually gives the Pharisees a compliment, implying that they are healthy and good. This might be the only “compliment” Jesus ever gave to them, but it wasn’t because they truly were healthy or good. The Pharisees only believed they were healthy and good, and while they tried to put on a good show, hidden sins and hypocrisy were decaying their characters on the inside.

In this statement, Jesus actually makes a key distinction that is worth us paying attention to. Jesus separates the two groups of people present throughout time in His simple analogy, and it is these two groups that will be present at the judgment.

Jesus came to be our Healer, but the only way He can heal us is when we acknowledge our need. People who claim to be healthy don’t go to the doctor because they don’t feel they have a need. In the same way, someone who is living a “good” life won’t believe they need any help being better.

But the reverse case is true as well. People who realize they are sick will go to a doctor they believe can heal them, and those who are sinners realize that they don’t measure up to God’s standards. These people then are open to receiving outside help. Jesus came to invite those who are open to receiving outside help and it is this simple distinction that separates people throughout history.

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