And Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31,32 NASB)
One of most difficult things for me is to go to the doctor. I hate it. Not because they make me uncomfortable, but because most of the time, in our discussion, there’s nothing really that can be done for my cold, flu or whatever, and we agree that I just need to tough out the cold, the flu, or whatever. But what happens when something really is wrong? Having that resistance to going to the doctor isn’t helpful, only I don’t know it at the time.
Jesus replies to the Pharisees complaint to His disciples by stating that He has come to call the sinners to repentance. He is the doctor, and they are the sick ones who need His services. But what does that say to the Pharisees? It’s not really a call on them to do the same thing. It just leaves it on the table to look at. Do they need to admit they are sick and need repentance too? Do they need to also be reaching the sinners? What are they supposed to do with His comment? Jesus explains Himself without really laying out what they need to do or are called to do.
The Importance of Cultural Terms
The common assumption, usually based on future run ins with the Pharisees later, is that the Pharisees are also sinners who need to repent. I wonder if that, at this point, is Jesus’ point. Later, when their attacks and rejection of Him are clear, then He ratchets up His pointed call on them to repent. But at this point, it’s not clear that they have rejected Him. We know that is to come, but it hasn’t happened yet.
The reason I point this out is that I see two things at work here. First I see that Jesus is very aware of His calling. Second I see that He is very aware that, at least at that point, it’s not to the Pharisees. At least it’s not explicitly to the Pharisees. It may be that at another time, it would be (like when the guy is lowered through the roof, that was probably for them). Either option (or both) have a glaring problem.
The Importance of Timing
We define repentance as ‘turning around and going the other way’. And there is validity in that for one of the words we translate as repentance. But more commonly it means to change one’s mind. In that light, it could be that the Pharisees were in dire need of this repentance. They desperately needed to change their minds to align their purpose and point of view with the purpose and point of view of the God they served. So, they really do need repentance since they are thinking at cross-purposes to Jesus.
But would Jesus have defined them as sinners? I’m not sure that would really characterize Jesus’ assessment of the Pharisees. They are sinners, as we all are, but that term had special significance in that culture. I don’t think Jesus saw them within that significant category. I think that Jesus was calling them to a different sort of repentance. And I think that He was not doing the calling right there. What I mean is that Jesus calls the Pharisees to repentance differently, and at different times. Right then He was calling sinners, in the cultural sense.
The Important Lesson
As my wife says often, “so what?” Well, isn’t it important that Jesus isn’t doing two things here? He’s not calling the Pharisees to repentance right here, and He’s not rejecting them either. He doesn’t go off on them to do what He’s doing. He doesn’t rake them over the coals for their failure to reach these people. He doesn’t tell them how inconsistent it is for them to claim to know Scripture yet reject the very people God wrote it to. He doesn’t do that right here. He will later, but not right here, not in Levi’s house, not in the midst of the party.
We do. I do. I interrupt the party to air my views, my judgement, my whatever. My timing stinks some times. Just because my information is accurate, does not make me right. More than that, I’m not supposed to reach all people by all means at the same time. I don’t have to do everything, which is why my Master put me in a body with many different parts and limbs. We each have a role, a calling, and mine isn’t to “Lone Ranger” my way before my Master. He designed me and my fellow believers to be dependent on each other. He placed us in the context of a church, His body, His bride, but together, not apart.
So, my lesson is that Jesus responds without contempt or accusation. That He responds at all affirms the importance the Pharisees have in His eyes. He knows they don’t see things His way, but He explains His way, leaving any change up to them. Again, this is a pattern I can follow. I can respond to those who don’t see my point of view without accusation or contempt. I can affirm their importance to myself and my Master. I can explain my point without pushing them to change their point. This is a pattern that may allow for more cooperation, less friction, and more demonstration of the fruit of the Spirit of my Master. Maybe.
What lesson do you learn? What’s your view through the knothole?