Life is all about stories and every person has a story. God, too, has a story – the grand metanarrative – that makes sense of every human story; for the sacred Scriptures make known two kinds of wisdom so that every human being can make sense of, and interpret properly, his or her story in light of His story:
+. a soteriological wisdom: to make us wise unto salvation which is by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15)
+. a hermeneutical wisdom: to help us make sense of life’s story in light of His story and the many stories recorded in Scripture (Matthew 13:11, 16-17, 51-52; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
In the parable of the Doctor to the Sick, what essential teaching does Jesus share with us about God’s response to the human condition so that we might benefit from its wisdom and grow in our discipleship as “a wise scribe, trained for the kingdom” (Matthew 13:52)
9 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.
10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
What did the parable mean “then and there?”
In the narrative accounts of Matthew, Mark and Luke, the calling of Matthew to be one of Jesus’ disciples follows the story of the paralyzed man who was both healed, and forgiven of his sins, by Jesus. As Jesus moved on from there, He came upon Matthew who was sitting at his tax booth, and He invited him to become one of His followers; and Matthew did.
Later, in Matthew’s house, Jesus and His disciples were reclining with many tax collectors and sinners and enjoying conversation and a meal together. Eating with people meant a lot in the first century Jewish world (as it does in our world today), for it conveyed acceptance and recognition; and His eating with such “sinners” communicated that the Kingdom was open to such people.
When the Pharisees saw this gracious care of Jesus toward “these sinners,” they asked His disciples why Jesus was in their company. Jesus explained the reason for His care and concern: “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”
The subtle, yet implied, message of Jesus to those who were Pharisees is that He can only bless and benefit those who understand and acknowledge their need for His saving work in their lives; and that was difficult for the Pharisees who viewed themselves to be “holy ones” – a group of religious people already righteous in God’s eyes – who did not need His grace, mercy and forgiveness.
What does the parable mean “here and now?”
+. in the movie “Jesus of Nazareth,” there is the powerful scene in which Jesus is at the home of Matthew and He used that occasion to teach the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32); here are a few key elements from that parable that many would view to be true for the target audience of tax collectors and sinners (but also for the Pharisees who were like “the elder son”):
+. the lifestyle of the younger son was reckless and his attitude toward his father showed that he did not really care for his father or desire a relationship with him
+. the repentance of the younger son is expressed in his confession: “but when he came to himself he said: ‘how many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you…’”
+. the celebration of the father with the return and restoration of his son; for the father mirrors God’s eager acceptance of repentant sinners – for while the son is a long way off, the father sees him and his heart went out to him, causing him to run to meet him so that he might embrace and kiss him
+. by refusing to participate in the celebration, the older brother shows his refusal to accept his father’s restoration of his younger brother and fails to understand the father’s mercy
+. the parable of the doctor to the sick, and the parable of the lost son, contrasts…
…the acceptance of sinners by God and the suspicion of groups like the Pharisees
…the attitude of God and the attitude of the Pharisees toward the repentant sinner
+. these parables provide two of the most powerful pictures in the Scriptures of God’s forgiving love toward the sinner and insight into His motivation behind His response: “for God so the world that He gave His one and only Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life”
In closing, let us impress these words from Scripture upon our hearts that address the need of every person to be healed by the mercy and forgiveness given to them by Jesus, the Good Physician:
+. “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)
+. “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10)
+. “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29)
+. “This saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15)