““When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” ” (Matthew 9:12-13, NKJV).
Jesus, in this context, had been criticized by the Pharisees for being too close to the “tax collectors and sinners” who were “reclining with Jesus” at dinner (cp. Matthew 9:10-11). The above passage is the response of Jesus to their criticisms. The spirit of Pharisaism is alive and well today. From this passage, we learn about some of the negative qualities of the Pharisee which deserve the rebuke of Jesus.
The Pharisee snipes his criticisms from a distance. In verse 11, notice the Pharisees question “his disciples” about the practice of Jesus Himself asking, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (9:12). Thus, “Jesus heard that” and responded Himself to their questioning critique. It is a sign of a cowardly weakling to try and undermine others by attacking them through gossip rather than sincerely questioning the individual themselves if there is truly a concern (Matthew 18:15-17).
The Pharisee prided themselves on their separatism. To them, Jesus was dirtying Himself by being around the sinful people. Yet, Jesus makes it clear “the sick” is exactly whom “a doctor” needs to be willing to approach and help. A doctor afraid to come near germs makes about as much sense as a religious teacher who will never come near a sinner in need of spiritual restoration. We can turn our noses up at sinners like the Pharisees or we can sit in their living rooms and try to teach them like Jesus.
The Pharisee viewed themselves as superior because of their religious ritualism. The contrast Jesus makes between “mercy” over “sacrifice” is from Hosea 6:6. There are certain religious rituals we must keep, but when we think those make us pleasing to God while we show no care for showing mercy towards our fellow man then our religion becomes “useless” (see James 1:26-27). Devotion to God in worship is important. Yet, so is compassion towards our fellow man.
The Pharisee assumes and falsely accuses others. The Pharisees were trying to plant a hurtful idea in the minds of others. It was the idea Jesus was a friend to sinners because He was a sinner. Yet, Jesus makes it clear He did not hobnob with sinners as an accomplice to their sin, but to turn them from their sin calling “sinners, to repentance” (9:13). Let us never insult what should be praised.
Like Jesus, may we always have a heart for the lost and the actions to back up our compassion!