“Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” (Luke 5:31–32, NIV84)
The backdrop of this verse is that Jesus is catching flack for picking Matthew as one of his disciples. Matthew was a despicable tax collector. The criticism from the religious elite was, “Doesn’t Jesus know or care who he engages in ministry with?” Their point was that Jesus, if He were a respectable leader, would avoid associating with people like Matthew. To this criticism, Jesus responds with this verse: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” What is the point Jesus is trying to make?
Jesus was trying to stress two very important things. First, it was not He (Jesus) who had this all backward–it was the self-righteous religious elite. Somewhere they forgot their purpose. God provided the Levites, prophets and teachers of the law so they might be instruments used by God to reach out to a broken and sinful people. They had been the means by which broken people could come to God and find forgiveness, but not any longer, not during Jesus’ time on Earth. Somehow the religious leaders forgot their roots and in turn created an exclusive elitist sect that only the most religious could join. Rather than reach out to the spiritually sick, they condemned them and excluded them from their circles (and God’s kingdom).
Second, in their self-righteous state they forgot their own roots. They too were sinners in need of God’s grace. Their external obedience was not sufficient in God’s eyes to make them right with Him. They were blind to the “Matthew” in each of themselves. In this verse Jesus was actually pleading with them to realize that they too were sick and in need of repentance and forgiveness. Jesus made it clear that He came to call sinners to repentance.
For Matthew, for the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, and for you and me it is the same challenge. Jesus calls us to look under the masks we wear in public and face our real selves. He calls us to recognize and admit our brokenness and sinfulness so that we might be made righteous through His death and resurrection. Jesus came for the sick, so that He might make them well. Let’s admit our illness and invite the healing in.