Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: "I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices." For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough. - Vs 13 (NLT)
Chapter nine has couple of encounters between Jesus and the Pharisees. These guys are beginning to turn up the heat. The more Jesus teaches and ministers, the more they decide they don't like what they're hearing. He is unwanted competition for the hearts and minds of the people. Jesus is upstaging them and they don't like it. For years, the Pharisees have been the main act in town. They are the recognized spiritual elite - the A Team. And now Jesus comes along preaching repentance and a new view of righteousness – a righteousness distinctly different than the brand the Pharisees had been practicing. In fact, that was a big part of what Jesus was teaching in His Sermon on the Mount. Remember, He said, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them" (Matthew 6:1). He was talking about the righteousness of the Pharisees. They gave to be noticed by men. They prayed to be seen by men. They prayed to impress men. They fasted to be admired by men. These guys did a lot of good things, but they did them for the wrong reasons. Yet they were viewed as righteous by the people.
Now Jesus comes along and begins to upset their idyllic little world. He is operating by a different rule book. He rejects their brand of righteousness and unveils His own. So when He sits down to have lunch with Matthew, a tax collector, and his tax collector buddies, the Pharisees are appalled. They can't believe a good rabbi would ever lower himself to eat with the likes of tax collectors and sinners. These people were considered the bottom feeders of the community. They were the dregs of humanity – despised and avoided at all costs. But here was Jesus having a meal with them. So the Pharisees confront Jesus' disciples. "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?" Jesus overhears their question and responds: "Healthy people don’t need a doctor––sick people do." Jesus is revealing the true purpose behind His coming. He came to rescue the perishing. He came to save the lost. He came to heal the spiritually sick and dying. He came to bring light to those living in spiritual darkness. He came to feed the spiritually hungry. He came to set free the spiritually captive. Jesus is also revealing another important ingredient to His ministry. It is to those who recognize their need for a Savior. Jesus came to rescue those who know they are in need of rescue. He came to heal those who know they are sick and are willing to admit it.
He goes on to say to His questioners, "Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices.’ For I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough." He quotes from Hosea 6:6.
I want you to be merciful; I don’t want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that’s more important than burnt offerings.
The Hebrew word for "merciful" is heced. It means "goodness, kindness, and faithfulness." In the book of Hosea, God is speaking against the people of Judah for their unfaithfulness to Him. Sure, they were still making sacrifices and going through the religious motions, but they didn't really know God. So, because they didn't know God, they weren't living lives that reflected a relationship with God. These people refused to come to God in true repentance. They refused to admit that they were really spiritually sick. In Hosea 5:15, God says, "I will go away and return to My place, until they acknowledge their guilt and seek My face; in their affliction they will earnestly seek Me." The response God is looking for from them is this: "Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has torn us, but He will heal us; He has wounded us, but He will bandage us, He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him" (Hosea 6:1-2).
When Jesus quotes from the book of Hosea to the Pharisees, it does not go unnoticed. They know the context. They were experts in the Old Testament and knew what was going on in the story. So the point of Jesus' statement did not escape their notice. He was saying that they were like the people of Judah – stubborn, unrepentant, spiritually sick, but unwilling to admit their need for a doctor. They saw themselves as perfectly healthy and spiritually whole. In his gospel, Mark records Jesus' response this way: "Healthy people don’t need a doctor––sick people do. I have come to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough." Jesus sums it up right there. The Pharisees were self-righteous and blind to their own spiritual illness. They didn't need a Savior, because they thought they could save themselves.
But before we slam the Pharisees, we probably need to take a look at our own lives and see if we don't sometimes suffer from the same problem. Even as believers, we cannot afford to forget the fact that we are still sinners in need of a Savior. We are still prone to sinfulness and sickness of the soul, because we are constantly doing battle with the flesh, the world, and the Devil. My process of sanctification or progressing in Christ-likeness, is a constant state of healing that is taking place. I am putting off the old and putting on the new. I am rejecting my old way of life and embracing the new life made possible through Jesus' death on the cross. I am growing in my dependence on God and my reliance on the Holy Spirit for power to live by faith instead of in the flesh. But before I can begin the healing process, I have to admit my sickness. I need to daily recognize my need for a Savior. Not just for salvation, but for sanctification. I can't live the Christian life apart from the power of Christ. I can't offer up my religious sacrifices as a replacement for His once-for-all sacrifice on the cross. Because all of my works are as filthy rags.
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we proudly display our righteous deeds, we find they are but filthy rags. – Isaiah 64:6
Jesus came "to call sinners, not those who think they are already good enough." I need to recognize my sinfulness each and every day. Not wallow in it and demoralize myself because of it. But allow it to remind me that I still need the healing touch of the Great Physician each and every day of my life.
Father, how easy it is for me to become complacent in my relationship with You. I can lull myself into a false sense of self-confidence and self-righteousness, thinking that all that I do for You is good enough. Yet, You want me to know You and to live a life that reflects that I have an intimate relationship with You. A life of compassion and mercy that reaches out to those who are sick, because I recognize that I have received the touch of the Great Physician on my life. In fact, you heal me daily from the effects of sin and my own addiction to self. Thank You for sending Your Son to heal those who are sick. Help us to daily admit our need for His healing touch. Amen