As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. (Matthew 9:9-10)
In Matthew 9, we find Jesus doing something about the state of his world. He is helping fulfill the dream of God that sinners be sought. God yearns for the least and the lost to receive the most and become the found. Jesus is caught welcoming those whom the religious leaders of the day had rejected and shunned. And his heavenly father was pleased.
However, those religious leaders were not pleased at all. You see that in verse 11: When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
It is not obvious to them that Jesus is God in flesh and that he would naturally want to “heal all our soul’s diseases.” As the great physician, that is precisely what Jesus came to do.
See what Jesus says next in Matthew 9:12-13:
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.”
Jesus helps us see something we need to see if we are going to be the dreaming, active church that he calls us to be. We need to see the heart of God!
Where is God’s heart? It is not difficult to locate. It is where it has always been. The leaders who opposed Jesus were so caught up in rituals—and so busy congratulating themselves on being better than others—that they had missed the heart of God in the very Scriptures they pored over.
It was right there in the prophetic message of Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” God had always been looking for the heart and life change (not just sacrificing a lot of animals). In Hosea’s day they didn’t acknowledge God in their daily lives. They tried to appease God by merely sacrificing animals. God essentially said, “Just stop it. Look at yourselves! I long for you to know me and show it by the way you live and the way you are merciful and faithful and loyal and moral.”
And Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6. He accuses his opponents of not really understanding what it means. If they did understand it, they would see that God’s heart is set on engaging this world and bringing back those who are far away. When we see what Jesus does and says, we as his church today need to see how he welcomes sinners God loves, calling them to the kingdom.
Is that our stance toward our world? Toward the lost? Toward men and women who need Jesus? Toward those who need to come home?
If not, we need to set our hearts on bringing forgiveness and mercy to those who need God’s healing touch. We must remember that we cannot offer enough worship or correct ritual to make up for a failure to show mercy. Jesus serves notice for what he wants in any congregation that claims to be made up of disciples that follow him.
Jesus teaches us to find God’s heart and follow his lead. Let’s be people who show we are close to the heart of God by following the example of Jesus in welcoming others to the blessings of a new start. Let’s share with them the abundant love and lavish mercy God has shown us through Jesus our Lord.