“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12-13)
I couldn’t move past this verse today. It is sweet like honey and intensely satisfying to the hungry heart. Jesus was eating with “many tax collectors and sinners,” and a group of Pharisees came to interrogate him about it.
Knowing that Jesus is God in flesh, covered in the Holy Spirit at all times, I’m sure the Pharisees always felt His righteousness when they were around him. They felt the difference between their spirits and His. They were, no doubt, acutely aware of their righteousness being as filthy rags, but instead of humbling them, it hardened them. They found Jesus sitting around a bunch of sinful people and their first thoughts were to condemn him, because finally, they had a reason to point the finger and say “aha!”
“Do you know these people?”
I imagine their sneers.
“Do you know what they’ve done and the way they do others?”
“Are you gonna hang out with this trash?”
I love how Jesus talks about the men and women around him. He doesn’t speak of them as if they are lesser or unworthy. He calls them “sick.” He acknowledged their brokenness. Their desperate need of healing and cleansing. A doctor would take them in and clean their wounds, bind up their brokenness and tenderly nurse them back to health. Then, insist they come back for treatment as often as they need it.
Before this meal, he had walked past Matthew’s tax booth, looked over at him and said, “Come, follow me.” No one in their right mind would have talked to Matthew! He was a liar and cheat. He was, with permission from the oppressive Roman regime, robbing his flesh and blood for the sake of personal gain. But to Jesus, he was someone more than that. He was the man who would later write the first Gospel. He was a man who would, later that same night, invite a bunch of sinners into his house to hang out with God in the flesh. He was a gateway to the saving power of Christ in the lives of so many people who most likely weren’t welcome in the church, the market or anywhere else in town. Jesus called him out of his sin (literally, in the act!) and then used him immediately to call more to himself.
The Pharisees represent the church. It’s evident in reading through the gospels that they were self-righteous and indignant that Christ would rather hang out with people who were fleshly and in need than those who sacrificed every worldly comfort to be counted worthy in God’s eyes. Sacrifice, though. Let me pause there: I don’t think God is displeased with such offerings. I just think that when our sacrifice makes His mercy in the lives of others a point of contention between us and Him, we must understand that God would smile more upon our mercy to our fellow man than on our staunch sacrifice that often makes us feel self-made in His eyes.
Finally, I think it’s important to consider what the last part of this selection says: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” If we are honest with ourselves, we can humbly admit that He came to call us. We are sinners. In those moments when I feel righteous, I thank God that “… those who walk in pride he is able to humble” (Daniel 4:37). Jesus didn’t come to call the righteous to himself because they could never hear him anyway, over the sound of patting themselves on the back. C.H. Spurgeon once said, “While others are congratulating themselves, I have to sit humbly at the foot of the cross and marvel that I’m saved at all.” This is the attitude of those Christ has come to call, and those He will undoubtedly reach. Such people are aware of themselves. They know they are not enough on their own. But they also know that God makes them enough through the sacrificial blood of Jesus.
Thank you Lord, for saving such a wretch as I.