Matthew 9:13 - The Verses Project

Bible Matthew 9:13

Posted January 13, 2015

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’
For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Jesus shocked his contemporaries by calling Matthew the tax collector to be His disciple. A tax collector in Jesus’ day was a Jew who had betrayed their own people by siding with Rome (their oppressors) and in turn making a profit from their own people by overcharging them. They were rich, isolated, and hated. Not only did Jesus shock them by calling Matthew to be a part of His band of disciples, He went even further and sat down with “many tax collectors and sinners.” This sitting down at a table was seen in His day as fellowship extended, and therefore the religious leaders (Pharisees) were incensed. They couldn’t imagine the outrage of sharing a meal with their arch-enemies! In their minds, Jesus was sitting down for a meal with the emperor of Rome. They were angry enough to confront Jesus’ disciples about His behavior since it seemed to condone the actions of those He was sitting with, and when Jesus overheard their conversation, and He issued a concise reply. His response is incredibly insightful because it teaches us how Jesus viewed His own ministry and what sort of people He desires His disciples to be.

Calling The Sick & The Sinners

Jesus declared that He came to call the sinners, not the righteous. In the verse just prior (Matthew 9:12), Jesus makes a parallel statement: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The irony of these statements is simply that “none is righteous; no not one (Romans 3:10).” We are all sinners and sick, and like Jesus came for Matthew, He comes for us. Both tax collector and Pharisee alike, they all landed in the same category! None are worse off or better off; we all were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3), needed saving & divine intervention. We were all born sick and live out of our sickness! Humanity doesn’t need a longer rulebook, it needs a merciful physician, a righteous savior.

Mercy Not Sacrifice

Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6, which says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” The main point made in Hosea and by Jesus was a simple one: you can conduct all the sacrifices and religious exercises and rituals you want, but apart from a covenantal relationship with the God of steadfast love and mercy, you have missed the point entirely. Knowledge of and fellowship with God matters! Once we taste the steadfast love and mercy in God, we can’t help but be transformed and become faithful, loving, and merciful ourselves.

Holy Love

May we see in Jesus a beautiful tension: one who mercifully spent time with sinners and the unrighteous, but loved them enough to call them out of their sin and spiritual sickness and to trust in Him. Very rarely do we see this tension embodied in our culture! We find people who feel comfortable on one side but not the other. Some claim to be friend of sinners, sitting at their table like Jesus did, but never point to the terrible trajectory of sin in our lives apart from Jesus; they never invite these friends into a better way of life in the kingdom of God. Others, similar to the Pharisees, critique from the outside but never enter into relationship with those they’re judging. It’s easier and it makes us feel self-righteous and approved. This was never the way of Jesus… He spoke to both tax collector and Pharisee, warning both alike. May we be challenged by Jesus example, and in turn model His sort of holy love for others in our own lives! He was both loving and holy, never pitting these two ideas against each other. His love was completely holy, and His holiness was entirely loving. It will take work!

We would do well to heed Jesus’ advice to “go and learn what this means.” Praise be to God that Jesus was the perfect sacrifice for our sins, and that He will lead us by His Spirit to become more like Him on this journey. Tim Keller has a great sermon on this passage if you want to dive in a little more!


Song by Emery Clark.
Mix & production by Chris Clark.
Artwork by Christian Robinson.