Jesus Answers the Pharisees

by Spiros Zodhiates

Spiros ZodhiatesEditor's note: Dr. Zodhiates continues his exegesis of Matthew's Gospel.

[9:10] Matthew (the publican) was impressed enough with his encounter with Jesus to immediately host a party at his home in the Lord's honor. He invited many other tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:29-32) to meet Jesus and the disciples. What an interesting mix-tax collectors, sinners, uneducated fishermen, and Jesus Christ, the Son of God!

"And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold (ido [2400], the imperative of edon [1492], the aorist of horo  [3708], to perceive, calling attention to the extraordinary [see Matt. 3:16]), many publicans and sinners came and sat down with (from sunankeimai [4873], to sit together for the purpose of eating) him and his disciples".

"Behold" directs our attention to the surprise that publicans (tax collectors) and sinners would eat with Jesus and His disciples. The verb "sat down with" is also used in Matthew 14:9 for Herod's banquet with his friends. Frequently, when sinners dine together, they talk about sinful subjects or even conspire to sin further. Herod's banquet, for example, was the occasion of the beheading of John the Baptist (Mark 6:22-28). But Matthew opened his house to publicans and other burdened sinners who wanted to meet Jesus. What an encouraging example Matthew is of a person's witness to others of Christ.

Not all who dined in the Lord's presence were true believers "in Christ" (John 14:20), as Judas certainly proved. "Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity" (Luke 13:26, 27).

[11] The reaction of the Pharisees was traditional: "Holy" people do not mix with sinners. The word "Pharisees," in fact, means "separated ones." But Jesus was not a Pharisee. For Him, while holiness certainly does not mix with sin, the holy Son of God did mix with sinners in order to save them. To avoid direct confrontation with Christ, the Pharisees addressed the disciples: "Why eateth your Master (didskalos [1320], teacher) with (met [3326]) publicans and sinners?"

While we list met as a synonym of sn in The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, 1333, we also note that sn frequently connotes a nearer, closer connection (1331). In their self-righteousness, the Pharisees could not tolerate any proximity to publicans and sinners. Holiness to them meant distancing themselves from such vile people. Notice how they even distanced themselves from Jesus by saying "your Master."

[12] Jesus overheard their question and explained in His unique way why He had chosen to eat with these people: "They that are whole (from ischo  [2480], to have ischs [2479], natural strength) have no need of a physician (from iatrs [2395]), but they that are sick" (a.t.).

This short response said a great deal. The analogy implied that these publicans and sinners were sick-with sin. They knew they were sick and He was the doctor. It implied that He was a doctor wholly independent of their beliefs. Finally, it implied that some others thought they were well and did not require a doctor. The next verse clarifies the Lord's meaning a bit further.

Jesus' use of iatrs showed further that people need more than a psychologist. The Old Testament picture of regeneration is nothing short of a heart transplant (Ezek. 36:26). Jesus proved that He had the credentials to restore all spheres of human existence permeated by sin: spirit, soul, and body (1 Thess. 5:23).

[13] Jesus quoted from Hosea 6:6, a prophecy in which God stated that He prefers that people show mercy rather than sacrifice bulls and goats-a frontal assault on the formalism of the Pharisees:

"But having gone (poreuthéntes, the aorist passive participle of poreomai [4198], not the imperative "go ye" but the fact prior to the imperative expressed in mthete), learn (mthete, the aorist imperative of manthno  [3129], the verb associated with mathe  s [3101], disciple) what that means, I desire (thélo  [2309], to will, to wish to have) mercy (from éleos [1656], compassionate and active pity) and not sacrifice (from thusa [2378]): for I did not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. (a.t.)

The terms in this statement paralleled those in the prior verse. The "righteous" corresponded to those who did not need a physician, and "sinners" corresponded to the sick. Jesus did not call the righteous, just as a doctor does not make house calls on those who are well. The purpose of His call was to invite those who were sick in sin to repent of their sins.

To soften the blow, Jesus spoke of the accused in the third person-"they that" (v. 12) and "the righteous" (v. 13)-but the Pharisees knew these words were aimed directly at them.

Obviously, not all sacrifice is antithetical to acts of mercy. A woman might sacrifice her life to save a drowning child, for example. God commands a "sacrifice of praise" (Jer. 33:11; Heb. 13:15) that has nothing to do with showing mercy and does not fall under His condemnation of sacrifice. The injunction in Hosea is restricted to the external sacrifice of bulls and goats, that is, the legalism of the Pharisees, not to the internal sacrifices of praise to God and service to His people.

God desires His people to be merciful, as He is. Thus, He describes Himself with these words, "I will have mercy (from eleéo  [1657]) on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion (from oiktero  [3627], to have compassion, which includes emotion as well as action-a deep empathy for its objects] on whom I will have compassion" (Rom. 9:15). The Lord Jesus grieved over humanity's lost condition and sacrificed Himself, "the sacrificial Lamb (amns [286], a lamb destined to be sacrificed, cf. Acts 8:32; 1 Pet. 1:19) of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29; a.t.).

As they appeared in the New Testament, the self-righteous Pharisees grieved over no one; they loaded up people with burdens too difficult to bear; and, as Jesus said, they did not extend so much as a finger to lighten the loads (Luke 11:46). But they did sacrifice bulls and goats.

God desired the mercy of self-sacrifice rather than the legalism of animal sacrifices.

Dr. Zodhiates is president emeritus of AMG International and publisher emeritus of Pulpit Helps.

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