And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:11-13 ESV)
When we think about the occupants of heaven we think about those who are holy. The Old Testament teaches us about the requirement to be holy or “clean” in God’s presence. This is what the holiness laws teach us. When Jesus comes back he will separate the sheep from the goats, presumably the righteous from the wicked. Most religions of the world are built on this belief and thus encourage people to live good lives (though what is called good may be debatable). So when Jesus says, “For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners,” he is saying something radical. What about the righteous? Are they NOT called? That is what Jesus says.
However, that does not mean that heaven will not be filled with righteous people. It simply means that it will be filled with righteous people whom Jesus has made righteous. What he doesn’t say directly but implies is that there are no righteous people otherwise. Jesus came to do what sinners could not do. He came to pave the way that otherwise was inaccessible. This means that all those who think they are righteous enough are wrong about themselves. They are deceived. The path to heaven is only for the one who knows he is a sinner.
Lord, help me to live out mercy toward others knowing that mercy is what Jesus extends to me, a sinner!