While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.Matthew 9:10-13
As a kid of the 70s, I love vinyl records. The sound of a needle in the grooves of the record is different from any other music listening experience. In the 80s, we learned that playing a record backward might produce a hidden message. In fact,I burned up a few turntables trying to discover these secrets. One thing I learned when playing a record counter to the way it was designed was that the sound was very different from the norm. It was distinct!
In Matthew 9:10-13, Jesus is in the home of someone who was rejected by the religious norm. Flip a few pages back and in the pages between His famous sermon and this dinner table, we see Jesus living like a backwards record. He’s on a mercy tour, living counter to the way the normal religious leaders lived. He heals a leper, serves a Centurion, frees those possessed, pities demons, heals a paralytic, and now we find Him partying with “sinners.” This was not the normal tune the “hyper-religious” hummed. It was a message being lived out counter to the direction the Pharisees were spinning. And it made a difference in every single one of their lives.
Jesus challenged the way they were emphasizing the law. He reminded them of Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” While the Pharisees were busy with the letter of the law, Jesus was about living out the heart of it. He was merciful to the overlooked and shunned. Larry Chouinard writes, “Whereas the Pharisees tended to sift the OT Scriptures through a holiness grid that focused on separation and purity, Jesus read and applied the law through the prism of God’s character. Therefore, His association with ‘tax collectors and sinners’ is mandated by His awareness of God’s merciful character.”
What would it look like if we chose to live counter to the social norms and we went out of our way to live mercy as Jesus did? Who would you see? Who would you help? Who would you check on? Whose call would you take? Who would you say “yes” to? What difference would it make?
- Grab a rubber band and wear it on your wrist for one week as a reminder to live mercifully. Let it remind you to look for those who are overlooked and shunned and to extend mercy their way.