As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 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.”
We live in a world of great injustice and discrimination. We have been fighting this battle for years and from all appearances we are not getting closer to solving the issue. The group of people who stormed the Capital Building surfaced these and other issues once again as we continue to face the political and ethnic earth tremors that are shaking our culture and world.
Discrimination carries the idea of being prejudicial and drawing distinctions between people that favor one person or group over another. As we can see from the text this is not a new issue. The Pharisees were the social movement group of the times and had no favor for those that by the nature were classified as sinners. They were people they would not associate with and were shocked that Jesus hung out with these kinds of people.
Some forms of discrimination are based on occupation as with the tax gatherers. The stereotype is not unwarranted. Tax gatherers were notorious for ruthlessly demanding payment and capitalized on the opportunity of adding their own stipend to taxes required by the governing authorities. They had a bad reputation because it was inherent in the occupation itself. We often run the same stereotypes where we assume negligence or manipulation. We often avoid these people as much as possible because their occupational reputation has gone before them. Many are “guilty as charged” before we find out if he really fits that prototypical mold that we have already established.
But there is something rooted in many who have had a long history of ethnic prejudice that seems so ingrained it seems hard to eliminate in any form. The Jews and Gentiles, especially the Samaritans, had ethnic frustrations that were quite intense. Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water to which she was surprised that he, being both a Jew and a man, would talk with her at all.
Jesus challenged the condescending attitude of the Pharisees. First, he related their discrimination to a spiritual reality that he imposed on the cultural problem. He drew up his comments in the context of medical pictures. A physician is not necessary for those who are well but those who are sick. Secondly, he challenged the sickness of their prejudicial hearts toward others. Being that they were Jews, the context of compassion over sacrifice would certainly fit their cultural and religious mindset. The first comment might seem to be too subtle for them to get. It could reinforce the cultural discrimination. The second comment drove right to the heart of their problem: these specific Pharisees needed to learn compassion for those who were not like them. These groups often prided themselves in keeping the religious law and often created their own. But Jesus wanted them to know that religious duty meant nothing if it did not translate to caring for people.
The hard part is that stereotypes are hard to conquer because they are rooted in the values of people that we love. Those who have ears to hear truth will glean from Jesus’ statements that which can uproot the hardest heart. Quoting Hosea 6:6 would indicate that their greater sin was not even against these “sinners,” but rather their condescending attitude revealed a problem of not being rightly related to God (Hosea 6:6). God desires loyalty and faithfulness to Him above all else. Religious duty that did not translate to compassion to others failed to see God’s compassion to them. There is still a lot to learn.