I'm training for the Great West Run (a half marathon) at the moment. You can even sponsor me if you like! Or at least, I'm supposed to be training but at the moment it's all had to stop because I've got these chest pains left over from a nasty cough I had and they won't go away. Training was going well. I'd done a couple of 9 mile runs and it was all feeling good. But now these chest pains mean I can't even jog a few yards without feeling pain. It's infuriating, worrying and beyond my control but will I go to see my doctor? I haven't yet. Typical bloke!
This word 'sinner' needs explaining and we need to understand how it's used in the passage too (where it's synonymous with 'tax collectors' because they were seen as 'selfish traitors' working for the Romans and cheating to get rich in the process). 'Sin' is the problem that ALL humans have where we are trapped by our own desire to be selfish and do things our own way instead of God's way. Sin is the stuff we all think, say and do wrong. It's the stuff we ought to think, say and do but don't! But these things are just symptoms. Sin is also the sickness we all have that causes them!
So if we're all 'sinners', why does Mark use this word to describe only certain people (verses 15 and 16)? Well it's partly because he's describing the 'sin symptoms' of the people he's talking about. These people Jesus chose to spend time with had more obvious problems with sin than others. But mainly, it's because these people were seen and judged by others as 'sinners' because their symptoms appeared to be worse than the rest of society. They were seen as second class because their struggles with sin were clear to all rather than hidden away secret. Wrong, unfair and cruel? Absolutely!
Jesus spends time with these people who are sick with sin and stuck without hope. Actually it's true that everyone's in this situation without Jesus but the thing that made Jesus want to hang out with these particular sinners is that they REALISED they had a sin problem and wanted help! Everyone else was maybe not as desperate for help or too stubborn to admit they had a problem.
I think the teachers of the law and the Pharisees must have thought that Jesus (if he really was someone special) should have been spending all his time with them. After all, they were the religious ones who'd got it all figured out. Surely Jesus would want to be friends with them! But Jesus isn't interested in the self-righteous or the stubborn and instead he makes a priority of those who are ready to ask for his help because they realise they're stuck in sin and see Jesus as their only hope. And is there a worship song that's cheesy but hits the nail on the head for this one? Yes there is.
So who are you more like? The religious people sitting in judgement on others and not admitting they have a sin problem? Or are you like the so called 'sinners' who were only too quick to realise their need of help from Jesus and trust him? And if you're a Christian reading this and you want to be like Jesus, think about the people you invest the most time in - Is it other Christians or people who really need the good news? Would Jesus be hanging out with you and your mates or would you be left where you are because he's busy with people you don't bother with because they're not like you?
And will I suck it up and go to the doctor? We'll see!