Matthew 9:10-13 – And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, 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, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
Jesus is hanging with the “wrong crowd”
In this verse, we meet up with Jesus as He is eating with the tax collectors and sinners. He has just called Matthew to follow Him, and Matthew did. Now the Pharisees were freaking out because of the company Jesus was keeping. They didn’t like the idea that someone who spoke with such authority, who was teaching and leading people would spend His time with people who clearly had not been living well. They thought they should be getting a nod for their good behavior. Hadn’t they always tried to do what is right? Hadn’t they always given what they should to the Lord? Hadn’t they always gone and worshiped when it was required, and even when it wasn’t? Why would Jesus, if He was such an important religious figure hang out with people who were known to rip people off? People who had cheated on their spouses? People who hadn’t made it to the synagogue in quite a while? They asked His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
What the pharisees didn’t get was that God came to save the lost. He came to help those who are helpless. He came to save the sinner from their sin. That each of us (because we all have fallen short of the Glory of God), each sinner, might be forgiven for their sins, and instead of spending an eternity in hell, we would be forgiven and be able to have everlasting life with Him in Heaven.
Here’s the crux of the problem. The Pharisees didn’t think they needed a savior. They felt they had done enough to secure their fate with God. After all, they had done all that was expected of them. They went to church, gave to the church, supported their family, stayed away from drugs and alcohol, didn’t have wandering eyes. Basically they were stand up guys. They weren’t used to having their self-worth questioned. So what was the problem? What was standing between them and God?
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’
Jesus quotes His Father (Hosea 6:6). God was telling the people of Judah and Ephraim that He desired mercy, not sacrifice. The people of that time had been constantly distracted from their relationship with God. They were concerned about themselves and nothing else. They ignored the warning signs God had given them through prophets. They ignored God’s wishes. They would attack people, murder and other sins. They completely disregarded God. The pharisees in Jesus day would have known these stories well. They had done a lot of study of the Bible. They were the one’s teaching everyone else what the words of scripture meant. For Jesus to tell them to go and learn what is meant by “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”, means they clearly weren’t demonstrating it’s meaning. The pharisees were concerned with fulfilling the letter of the law, but not the intent behind it. God’s intent was not about the law, but that the people He loved (and loves) would be able to have the best relationship with Him as possible. His laws were intended to keep people safe, point them back to Him and to bless them. They weren’t intended as check boxes to be marked off. They have value, but when they are used to measure one’s salvation, they are misused.
For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners
The truth is we are all sinners. Should we be striving to be more like Christ? Yes, of course. The problem is, many of us think that what we do is what is going to get us into heaven. We think that our good has to outweigh our bad and then we’re set. I have heard many people say, “I’m a good person, I’m sure I’ll get into heaven.” Sadly that’s not going to work. Being a good person is not a requirement. Believing that Jesus died to save us from not being a good person is what is required. Faith in Jesus’ saving grace is the only way to get into heaven. It’s not only unbelievers who cling to this idea, those who profess to believe in Jesus also struggle (just like the pharisees). They are working themselves to death, trying to do the “right thing”. They help at church, give a lot of money to charities, sit on boards they hate, why? Often it’s because they feel it’s their duty. God isn’t interested in our duty. He only wants us to do these good things (very good things) if the reason we’re doing them is because we are so grateful for what He’s done for us. We’re not supposed to do them in some misguided attempt to earn our way to heaven. God has done everything necessary for us to get to heaven. We need only believe in Him and trust that He’s got us covered in His redemptive blood. So don’t worry if you make mistakes. God knows you. Instead of putting your faith in your actions, put your faith in Him.