Immediately after Jesus called Levi to follow Him, this new disciple hosted a feast at his home. Matthew 9:10 tells us that many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down at his table. Even at this early stage in Jesus’ ministry, the Pharisees and scribes were keeping tabs on what Jesus was doing. Mark 2:16 reveals that they saw Him eating with this motley crew at Matthew’s house. They asked His disciples why He ate with such people.
To the Pharisees, these people were untouchables. Bigotry was a huge problem with the religious leaders—why should they, the elite class, associate with such lowly individuals? In Luke 7:39, a Pharisee named Simon concluded that Jesus was not a prophet, since he willingly allowed a sinful woman to touch Him. Such an accusation was not laid against Him in our text, but was no doubt the thought of their minds.
Jesus did not leave it for His disciples to answer the question, but addressed it Himself. He used a very short parable to respond:
Those who are well have no need of a physician, but
those who are sick. (Matthew 9:12)
Jesus was not giving them medical advice. However, He used the scenario of a doctor tending to patients to speak of His work with the spiritually ill.
People who are well do not go to the doctor. It would be rare for one who is not experiencing health issues to have a host of doctor’s appointments. I’m thankful to have good enough health through the years that my doctor’s visits have been few and far between. But there are those who seem to see a family physician or specialist almost weekly.
The Pharisees would certainly acknowledge the tax collectors and sinners as being sick, and would perceive themselves to be in good spiritual health. The Lord is not agreeing with them, but simply speaks of them as they think about themselves. The truth is, they were sick, but did not acknowledge it. They were in some respects like the Christians at Corinth to whom Paul wrote:
You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned
as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign,
that we also might reign with you! (1 Corinthians 4:8)
If someone is blind to his spiritual malady, there is not much that can be done. Those who think they are well will not seek help. Jesus was no use to the Pharisees for they did not believe they needed Him. Thus, He spoke with those who were poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3) who knew their spiritual poverty and sought a solution. He explained His mission,
I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to
repentance. (Matthew 9:13)
The same is true among us today. If an individual will not acknowledge where he is at spiritually, there is nothing we can do to help. Those who are sick, and know they are sick—this is where our attention needs to be focused.
Since they were blind to their spiritual need, Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees to “…go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13).
The Pharisees were good at passing judgment on others (John 9:39). Jesus emphasized the need for mercy. They were extreme in their focus for sacrifice, at least in some areas (Matthew 23:23), but failed to apply judgment, mercy, and faith as they ought. Sacrifice (offering) without faithfulness to the Lord and mercy to our fellow man is vanity.
Let us not be as they were. Seek the Saviour, for no man shall see God apart from faithful obedience to Jesus Christ and imitation of His life. Acknowledge your sin and willingly turn from it. Be people of mercy, patterned after the character of God.
Friend, we need the great physician!