Is Jesus Unnecessary?
As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Matthew 9:9-13 (NIV)
Today’s little passage is pretty straight forward from a narrative sense, but very heavy hitting no matter where you stand in terms of your viewpoints of Jesus. We see Jesus calling, befriending and eating with the tax collector Matthew. Tax collecting was a profession considered by the jews to be the scungiest, most abhorrent job; a traitor of their own people and a sinner amongst sinners. And so, somewhat understandable, the pharisees can’t believe what they are seeing when Jesus spends time with this man. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” They ask of his disciples.
Jesus replies with two sharp statements that cut the pharisees and their practices to their core, and, if we examine ourselves, might do the same for us.
I’ll start with the second which is “go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.” Jesus here is quoting from an old testament prophet book, Hosea. And without getting too deep into the context, Jesus is saying to the Pharisees, leaders of the jewish people who are arrogant and proud of their piousness and their ability to perform all the sacrifices they need and live by the law, that he isn’t actually interested in any of their sacrifices. It’s not their religious practices whereby they think they make themselves clean and pure. No, it is a broken heart seeking mercy that Jesus desires. A person that realises that actually, in this world, I cannot do enough good in order to reconcile the bad I have done, and the way I have not recognised God in my own life. Jesus is after this sort of person; a sinner who does not hide their sinfulness, not someone who claims to be righteous because of their own deeds – for no one could ever outrun their own sin.
Before this, Jesus said; “it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick”. Ie, I have come as a doctor in this world to heal it’s brokenness and sinfulness so that humanity can be in relationship with God again, but I can only heal those who want to be healed, who realise they need to be healed.
I think you often read these stories in the gospels about Jesus eating with and spending time with sinners, and you think, ‘wow, Jesus really was friends with everyone and all sorts’. But having thought about it a bit more, and particularly in light of this passage, it becomes clear that that really isn’t the case. Jesus does love everyone and would love to be friends with everyone, but Jesus was only friends with those who realised they needed him. That was the defining mark of their relationship, that the other person realised their own state of sinfulness, and saw Jesus the Son of God as the answer to their problem.
And so, I think this passage is very heavy hitting no matter where you stand in relation to Jesus. Jesus loves us all for who we are, despite our sin. But he is waiting for you to realise the direness of your own situation, the sinfulness and brokenness of our world in order to see that you need him.
If you aren’t a christian, none of this matters/Jesus doesn’t matter if you don’t think there is anything wrong with this world, if there isn’t something that needs fixing. And so I challenge you to consider whether there is something wrong with this world? Is there a brokenness that needs fixing? Are you happy with the way humanity acts? With war? With environmental issues? With the stupid everyday conflicts between people and the lack of love? With depression, inequality and the lack of value we place in others? Does the world need saving?
And if you are a christian, how often do you reflect on the fact that you need Jesus? That you are sinful. That every member of the church is sinful. And that individually and collectively, it is not our good acts as christians, our own righteousness that wins us the love of God, but the recognition of our sinfulness. In theory we all know this, but how often do you think it in the depths of your being?
Joe Hockey, club chaplain
first published 28-7-2018