When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” Mark 2:16-17
I wonder whether there’s a bit of irony in Jesus’s words to the Pharisees. They see themselves as righteous, but of course their lofty self-regard means that they are as much in need of repentance as those they call sinners. Seeing the world in polarities (good and bad, righteous and sinner) is a symptom of spiritual illness, or at least a sign that one has room to grow.
When Jesus says, “I have come to call not the righteous but sinners,” is he saying, “the righteous won’t even hear my call, but the sinners will, because they admit their failings”? The sinners aren’t following the world’s rules, perhaps because they cannot. It may be their sins that make them vulnerable enough to hear the call to repentance. But when we’re full of a sense of our own goodness and rightness, we cannot hear the call to something greater.