As we observed last time in studying this passage, the Pharisees had a problem. They thought they were righteous before God whereas the people Jesus ate with (and by implication Christ Himself) were not. The truth was, of course, that they were just as sinful as those they disdained and in some ways they were worse off because they were sick with the spiritual cancer of sin and they didn’t realize it. In short, Christ had the correct perspective on their condition while they did not. In a similar fashion, their perspective on their devotion to God and their responsibility to man was likewise skewed. As we will see here, Christ again shows them that what they think is true and right differs greatly from reality.
You see, the Pharisees thought that by not associating with sinners that they were proving their devotion to God. In their mind, remaining pure and separate from those who lived godless lives was, in a sense, an act of worship. However, Christ points out the error in their thinking by referring them to Hosea 6:6. He reminded them that they should already have known this by telling them to “go and learn what this means” which was the first century equivalent of saying to them “I guess you were absent the day they taught scripture in Hebrew school, huh?” Again, these masters of scripture might have known the words but the truth of those words had not pierced their hard hearts. They had the quote from Hosea backwards in their practice. They had majored on the “sacrifices”—the external demands and duties of their religion. They had ignored the requirement for “compassion”. Instead of being a witness of the truth to those who lived in disobedience and calling them to repent, they sat in self righteous judgment and condemned those on whom they should have had compassion just as God and Christ had compassion on them.
In addition, they had a goofed up perspective on what God expected from them while also having an incorrect perspective on other people. Jesus reminded them, therefore, that God was a God who saves people and shows compassion. This salvation, though, was for those who were humble enough to acknowledge their need for it. As He said back in Matthew 5:3, it is those who are poor in spirit who are going to be blessed. Those who recognize their need for a savior and will turn to God and say “Have mercy on me” are the ones who will find a God willing to forgive and save them. Jesus, as He said here, “did not come to call the righteous, but sinners”.
The Pharisees rejected Jesus and His message because they rejected God’s word in spite of their protestations that they knew Him and followed Him. They, as a result, didn’t have a right perspective on themselves, on sin, and ultimately on God and His righteousness. What we see here then is a reminder that rejecting the truth is dangerous and carries consequences. If we want to have a right perspective on our situation, we need a right perspective on God and we only get that right perspective from His holy word.