The Pharisees, as we examined the last time we looked at this passage, looked down on Jesus because He, in their minds, was not righteous because He was associating with those known to be unrighteous. In their way of thinking, the sinfulness of the people with whom He was eating made them unfit for Jesus or any respectable person to be around. As much as you and I might chide the Pharisees for this attitude, how often are we like that? I’d say more often than we admit. As my pastor pointed out in his sermon Sunday, picture two couples in your mind: one couple comes in, cleanly dressed, hair neatly combed, a man and a woman in their mid 30’s with two children who don’t make a peep the entire service. The other couple is a fairly haggard looking with greasy, matted hair, the man has tattoos on his neck that look like they extend beneath his shirt. The woman is carrying a baby that is screaming loudly and wearing a diaper and a t-shirt that has what looks to be dried squash, peas, and maybe ketchup. Now, which couple would be more readily welcomed into our churches? Which couple needs the gospel more, would you assume?
Hold on to both of those questions for a little bit while we examine how Jesus responded to these people who criticized Him for the company He kept.
First of all, notice that Christ had a different perspective on the condition of the people with whom He ate as well as a different perspective on the Pharisees’ condition than they themselves had. The Pharisees thought they were righteous. As far as people measured righteousness, they were righteous. They kept the letter of the law in the eyes of people and were considered experts in knowing how to live rightly before God. Jesus, in Matthew 9:12, reminded these men who proclaimed themselves righteous that “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.” Now, Jesus was not talking about physical sickness. Rather, He was referring to the spiritual cancer of sin that was in the heart of those with whom He was eating.
However, it wasn’t just the publicans who had a problem with sin. In fact, the Pharisees should have known that better than anyone because they knew, or should have known, what God’s word said in the Psalms. Psalms 14:2-3 says “The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.” In other words, while the Pharisees might have heard Jesus’ reply and assumed they were the “healthy” ones that He was talking about, the fact is there are no people who could be called “healthy” in the example Jesus gave. We are all sick—sick with the disease of sin and it is terminal. Only Jesus, the Great Physician, has the ability to cure that disease and save us. Therefore, Jesus had a different perspective on the people He ate with and He had a different perspective on the Pharisees than they themselves had. They saw themselves as whole. He saw them, as He sees all sinners, as diseased.
Next time, we will return and examine how Christ’s perspective on the responsibility of the Pharisees to the publicans and sinners was different than that of the Pharisees. However, as we close out, based on what we’ve read now, which couple from our hypothetical situation above needs to hear the gospel more? Most people in church would probably act as though couple number 2 needed the gospel more, but in fact we often times would be more welcoming to couple number 1. Let these verses we have studied remind us that Christ sees everyone as spiritually sick and needing the services of the Great Physician who died on the cross to suffer God’s wrath in their place.