In my devotions this week, I came across Matthew 9:10-13.
And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
This passage held a striking revelation for me. The Pharisees targeted Jesus for hanging out with the wrong crowd: the spiritually sick, the morally destitute. Jesus’s response to their question revealed much. It’s not just that the spiritually sick need a physician; it’s that all of us are spiritually sick. We all need to call Christ “Doctor.” The question of the Pharisees shouldn’t have been, “Why are you eating with them?” It should’ve been, “Why aren’t you eating with us?”
The answer to that question, however, is disconcerting. I believe that Jesus was not eating with the Pharisees because they were ignorant of their illness. They didn’t think they needed a physician. What’s worse: they thought that those who needed one shouldn’t receive the mercy of having one. That’s why Christ quotes Hosea 6:6. God has always desired mercy over ritual; he has a history of merciful behavior, a history of giving grace. To keep others from experiencing that is no small sin, for it is a vain attempt to keep others from God himself.
As I prayed through the passage, I thought, “It’s one thing to be sick . . . quite another to be ignorant.” But that’s how most of us are, if we’re honest. We’re functionally ignorant of our spiritual illness. Let us always remind ourselves that we are recovering from the deadliest disease that has ever plagued the earth: the disease of sin. Christians, no doubt, are on a steady path to recovery because of Christ and the work of the Spirit in us, but the cure will not be consummated until we are fully united with our great physician. When we’re one with God (John 17:21), fully united with the Trinity after passing through death’s door, we will be well. Until then, we’re in recovery. May we never be ignorant of our illness.