9 As Jesus continued on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at a kiosk for collecting taxes. He said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him. 10 As Jesus sat down to eat in Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners joined Jesus and his disciples at the table.
11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard it, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do. 13 Go and learn what this means: I want mercy and not sacrifice. I didn’t come to call righteous people, but sinners.” Matthew 9:9-13, CEB
(We’re in the middle of a series on sacrifice for people in recovery that starts on Day 1. Get caught up or you may feel lost. The first five days are the groundwork, then the real fun starts.)
There is a possible double-meaning to Jesus’ use of the word mercy that makes this passage particularly interesting. On the one hand, the mercy refers to the earnest faithfulness of God’s people. On the other hand, the passage is not just teaching about people’s response to God but also God’s response to his people. Can we learn a little bit about God’s mercy, then?
If the self-sufficient, healthy people do not need a doctor, then they will not go to one and, therefore, not have one. (It’s probably important not to push too hard on the metaphor, because every metaphor breaks down at some point, but it’s not a huge stretch to see how healthy people could keep themselves out of the doctor’s reach.) The sick people, who acknowledge their illness, receive exactly what they need, not just a doctor but healing/wellness.
In other words, the faithful loving mercy goes both ways. Those who are not self-sufficient, who are sick, and acknowledge their illness, receive a kind of faithful loving mercy from the God of the sick. It is this same mercy that can be either passed on to others or simply demonstrated in the life of the sick person who is in the process of being made well. This happens not because God emotionally blackmails sick people into submission, but because the sick respond to God’s presence in earnest and loving ways.
We’re five days in and have yet to talk about sacrifice in the life of the person in recovery. The groundwork has now been laid! Stay tuned tomorrow as the conversation advances.