1. Why is this passage listed among difficult passages?
One difficulty in this passage is why Jesus appears to uncharacteristically let the Pharisees off the hook, or does he?
A second difficulty is in how to apply the quote from the OT to the situation. What we quickly learn, however, is that digging into the OT context will quickly answer both questions and resolve both surface difficulties rather easily.
2. How do we deal with the difficulties in this passage?
First we must be careful to understand Jesus correctly. If we do, we discover he is not letting the Pharisees off at all.
“When Jesus said, ‘I came not to call the righteous but sinners,’ we must understand what he was saying. He was not saying that there were some people who were so good that they had no need of anything which he could give; still less was he saying that he was not interested in people who were good… Jesus was saying, ‘I did not come to invite people who are so self-satisfied that they are convinced they do not need anyone’s help; I came to invite people who are very conscious of their sin and desperately aware of their need for a Saviour.’ He was saying, ‘It is only those who know how much they need me who can accept my invitation.’” William Barclay (in loc.)
Barclay also points out that the Greek word for call is the word used for formally inviting people to dinner. The Pharisees were those who had been called to this dinner. Hm…
Adam Clarke points out that the introductory words of v. 13 were a “form of speech in frequent use among the rabbis.” Jesus is quoting from Hosea 6:6 and encouraging the Pharisees to look it up and learn. What do we find when we do that?
Hosea 4:1 is God’s charge against Israel, especially her religious leaders. There was no faithfulness (Hebrew– ‘emet), no love (Hebrew — checed), no knowledge of God – acknowledgement of God, following of what they knew – in the land.
Chapter 5:2 is a call for God’s discipline of Israel until they seek him (5:15). Then chapter 6 begins with verses very germane to Jesus’ metaphor of himself as the physician.
“Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” NIV The verse Jesus quotes reiterates the last two points of God’s charges in chapter 4. Mercy is the same Hebrew word (checed). I like the ESV translation of the word “steadfast love.” TEV translates helpfully too, “I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have my people know me than burn offerings to me.” Hos 6:6
3. What are the key truths or inspirational messages of this passage?
The Pharisee’s religion was self-serving, focused on externals, and pride engendering. Sometimes our religious practice becomes similar. If so, it falls to the same challenge that Jesus gave to the Pharisees here, especially when we consider the fuller text of the Hosea text to which Jesus was alluding. This passage is a constant reminder that God is looking at the heart more than any external liturgies. If external rituals are a genuine expression of love for God –great. But if we are going through the motions as the Pharisees were while letting the inside be unchallenged by Jesus’ principles, then we are condemned along with them.
What insight might this passage give us concerning missionary work in another culture? Concerning evangelism in our own culture?
One person in our study mentioned that the Pharisees concept of holiness was a separatist concept requiring them to move away from sinful people. Jesus, however, did not have that concept. He was willing to associate with sinners in order to be their spiritual physician. The Pharisees, the “holy” people of their day, criticized Jesus for his stance. Sometimes the same kind of criticism is heard today. But Jesus sent us to be salt and light among those who need him.