In the early days of our church plant, we hosted a lot of parties. We tried to create informal times for people to get to know each other, for relationships to form, and just to have fun together. I remember playing a group game at one gathering we held in our rented church space. The game leader, Michelle, would say two different phrases, pointing to opposite sides of the room. Everyone then chose which phrase best described them, and grouped together with the other people who agreed with them.
It went something like this:
“Vacation at the beach or in the mountains?” The beachy sorts flocked to one side of the room while the mountain-lovers flapped their Chacos to the other side.
“Coffee or tea?” Most of the room started salivating for Starbucks and grouped together while I tried to convert a few of the undecided to the health benefits of tea.
“Which do you read first, the beginning or the end?” Those of us who like to do things in order raised our eyebrows at the sheepish group gathering together admitting that they do, indeed, read the end of a book first to decide if it’s worth it.
Fun memories. But what if Michelle had gotten a little more personal? What if she had said…
“Good people, bad people.” I imagine everyone shuffling around trying to decide which side of the room to go to. What does she mean by that, anyway?
“Sick people, healthy people.” I probably would have quickly scuttled over to the healthy side, whipping out my hand sanitizer on the way.
“Sinful people, righteous people.” Yikes. This is an awkward moment…
This is similar to what happens in the next few stories Mark tells about Jesus, as if they were playing our group game. A group gathers on one side of the room full of educated and successful people. They generally keep all the rules, try to do the right thing, and overall seem like they have it together. These are the ones everyone respects and follows.
A motley sort gathers on the other side of the room. Socially awkward people, handicapped people, rebellious people who don’t try to hide what they’re doing. These are the ones people generally avoid.
Which side of the room would you want to be on? With the healthy ones or the sick ones? With the good people or the bad people?
Jesus makes it very clear which side of the room he would have joined. He would have joined the “bad people” group, not because he himself had ever done anything wrong, but because these were the people God sent him to hang out with. He states very clearly in Mark 2:17: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The difference between the two groups is simple. One group recognized their need for Jesus, and the other group didn’t. If Michelle had led this game in the first century, there would have been a group of people who would have unhesitatingly gone to the “sick” and “bad” side of the room. They knew their need. And they would have found Jesus there.
The irony of what Jesus was saying is easy to miss. In reality, everyone he was talking to was sick. They all needed a physician; they all needed Jesus. Whether they looked good on the outside or not, they all had wicked hearts that needed to be transformed.
The same is true today. There are those of us who seek the good life by keeping the rules and doing the right thing. And there are those of us who seek the good life by following our own rules and doing our own thing. Neither group finds life, because Jesus is the only way to find the kind of life we’re looking for.
Jesus is still hanging out with the people who know they need him. People from both sides of the room who flock to him, knowing that he is their only hope. That’s all it takes to be his friend. You might be tempted to polish up your image and try to appear healthy and good, but don’t bother. Jesus isn’t on that side of the room. Go ahead and be honest with yourself and the people around you. You have no chance of being healthy or good without Jesus. You need him. Realizing that is the best place to start.