If there were someway to miraculously cause everyone to pay attention to a particular text, I would will it to be so with today's text, Matthew 9.13. I know that my efforts surrounding this verse are just that, they are my efforts, and as such, are limited to my own human frailties. However, I would suggest that there is something moving and majestic about this passage that makes it worthy of long and prayerful attention by even the most devout and studious lover of truth.

First, we quote the verse in context: “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, 'Follow Me.' So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, 'Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' When Jesus heard that, He said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 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 9.9-13).

When I beg your attention to this text, I am, in effect, doing the same thing Jesus did when He cited the original passage from Hosea 6.6. He was speaking to the Pharisees but He was apparently within earshot of many others who were gathered in Matthew's house at the time. The Pharisees were, by all reports, among the sharpest and best informed of Hebrew Bible students. Their position within the ruling hierarchy was so well entrenched as to make them a formidable force among any and all who might oppose them in and around the city of Jerusalem. This class – this revered and fearsome group – was the group who confronted the disciples of Jesus with their loaded question, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus heard the Pharisee's vaguely veiled trickery; He had a ready and fitting response. We will merely introduce that response today. However, His detailed response will be considered in future instalments in this space. Before stating His main message to the scheming Pharisees, He advised – rather directed – them to take a particular action. As He was directing them to writings of Hosea, one of the twelve Old Testament Minor Prophets, He said tersely, “But go and learn what this means!” This formula was, to the ears of the Pharisees, like poring salt in an open wound. After all, they were the elitist when it came to biblical interpretation! “Who is He, this unlearned and obscure Galilean, to publicly question our knowledge of the scripture? Does He know to whom He is speaking?”

Well, of course, we know the answers to the questions that popped into the heads of the Pharisees He confronted. Who was He? He was the author of the Old Testament Scriptures. Did He know who they, the Pharisees, were? All too well He knew them! He also know their hearts and the fact that there was hardly a spiritual bone in their bodies! Their deeds were done for show to others with hardly room for any genuineness or sincerity. This was their “besetting sin.” That is why He directed them to the passage He chose from Hosea. They were spiritual leaders with virtually no spiritual aptitude. Their hearts were of stone while His whole agenda called for the melting of men's hearts through the greatest story of love ever to be demonstrated before the eyes of man!

Go and learn what this means was great advice for the Pharisees and it is great advice for any Bible student. There is a principle here far too precious to be overlooked or slighted in any way! (Continued)

Questions:

1. Why do you suppose the Pharisees questioned Jesus' disciples and not Jesus Himself?

2. What was a tax collector? How were they thought of in the Jewish culture? Why would Jesus invite one of them to follow Him?

3. How did the Pharisees see themselves spiritually? How realistic was their image of themselves?

4. When Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means,” what attitude ought those to whom He was speaking have? What can we learn from such a statement?