I once had a dream about my grandmother. In this dream, I saw her bleeding profusely from her head. But all she was doing was covering a place on her arm.
She thought it would stop the bleeding. But it was as if she were just putting on a band-aid. I vaguely remember trying to tell her where the bleeding was really coming from. But she couldn’t hear me. She couldn’t see what I could see.
Jesus actually has a lot to say about that kind of thing. One of His statements, I find, is nothing short of amazing. You can find it in Luke, chapter 5, verses 31 and 32. I remember when I was a new Christian and feeling very inadequate, and reading this statement and feeling very encouraged by it.
Even today I’m amazed at how simple and yet profound this beautiful statement is. And I find myself wanting to savor it, like drinking hot chocolate on a cold, wintery night or taking in the sunshine after a fierce thunderstorm.
So Luke, chapter 5, verse 31 and 32. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." I have always loved that statement.
No matter how I feel, inadequate or unworthy, or I’ve made mistakes, this verse, this statement, has given me hope.
Today, in order for us to fully appreciate the meaning here, I invite you to imagine with me what was going on, what happened that led Jesus to say what He said. In the story, Jesus was on His way to the lake of Galilee. And as usual, crowds of people were around Him.
Some of those were friendly, some were just curious and I imagine that there were others not so friendly, as in decidedly unfriendly. Spies who were there to watch. Jesus’ ministry always seemed to be blessed, liberally blessed with these ongoing skirmishes. Most often it was the Pharisees who dogged His steps all the way, nipping at His heels. They didn’t like how free and loose Jesus was with His theology, as they understood it, or His mingling with unworthies.
They were of the stay-away-from-everything-and-everyone-unclean persuasion. Have you ever known anyone like that?
Well, anyway. This crowd was following Jesus, and the Bible says that as Jesus came near a public tax booth He saw Levi Matthew sitting there. And I imagine these critical eyes, along for the walk, observing everything carefully. As it became evident that Jesus was getting closer to that tax booth, they could only anticipate the worst.
I can only imagine the glances of disapproval and disgust on their faces. And if we could listen in on their conversation, it might have sounded like this: “How can Jesus even stand it to be so close to that, that thing, talking with that scumbag?” “Oh, you think that’s bad. Look now. He, He’s putting His hand on his shoulder? Unbelievable.” Well, that was from their perspective, no doubt. Just a couple of religious bozos, compared to Jesus. Ah, but they were deadly serious. Deadly serious in misrepresenting God. But, thankfully so, the gospels reveal a totally different picture. Jesus saw a far different scene, in His mind.
Matthew’s own gospel says that "He saw a man named Matthew."
Mark says, "He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus."
Luke says, "He went out and saw a tax collector named Levi."
I believe it’s important to recognize that when He came to that booth, Jesus saw a person. Someone with a name, someone with a history and a family. He didn’t just see a man doing the despicable work of collecting taxes for the hated Romans. Well that’s all the Pharisees saw, but Jesus saw in this man an openness to the truth. And He knew his longings and his hopes and his fears. He knew everything. And how did Matthew feel being the object of Jesus’ gaze? As a human being. A human being with dignity, created in the image of God. Someone loved and liked by God.
Sinful, yes, but someone uniquely valuable in God’s eyes. That look was more than just a superficial glance. It went right through him, and yet he sensed compassion, acceptance and love.
I imagine Matthew, having heard a lot about Jesus already, had a lot of questions. And Jesus answered every one of them with confidence and a sense of power, and yet, honesty, humbleness and directness.
And so Matthew’s trust just started to grow, exponentially. And so when Jesus invited Matthew to be His student, there was no hesitation on Matthew’s part. He responded, immediately.
I mean, Jesus had such a way with people. So polite and respectful. So gracious. And for anyone who listened, He brought His teaching about the kind of God who loved people, who didn’t frown on them and hate them because of their sins. A God who didn’t throw curses on them. And so this was what Matthew was waiting for. And all of his friends.
And I’m sure he had so many friends, all of them from the fellowship of the despised and condemned, those abandoned and forgotten by all the religious leaders.
“Quickly,” Matthew said to his servants, on the way to his house, “Invite all my friends. Tell them to come dine at my house and meet Jesus.”
Oh, he was excited. But there was a far different feeling with those critical eyes watching. Just the sight of Jesus walking shoulder to shoulder, talking and laughing with that traitor to the Jewish nation, that betrayer, that sinner-reprobate. The sight was sickening to them. “I can’t believe what I’m seeing!” fuming to themselves, as they gathered that Jesus was walking toward Matthew’s house and when they got there, going right in. “Awww, such a defiling place. Unclean.”
So Jesus sat there at Matthew’s table, dining as an honored guest with the friends of Matthew, also known as — “tax collectors and sinners.”
Now, as you might have guessed, that particular label, “tax collectors and sinners.” Uh-uh. Not a good one. You don’t want to go there in those days.
You might as well have been a leper, cursed of God. Or, in these days, someone with AIDS. “Ewww. Stay away from them. Don’t touch the unclean.” That was their feeling. Tax collectors were not only collaborators with the Romans, but they also had the reputation of being extortioners. Dishonest. Thieves.
And they were lumped in with the kinds of people that were looked down upon by the Pharisees. You know. The prostitutes. Adulterers. Thieves. Drunks. Immoral people. Idolaters. You name it.
To the Pharisees, they were public enemies. But to God, they were to be treated as sick people in need of a doctor.
So let’s imagine the scene, as Jesus mingles with them.
Watch how He listens to their stories, as One who is genuinely interested in their lives. Observe how He doesn’t condemn them, but shows sympathy and so skillfully wins their confidence. Notice how Jesus politely, courteously, talks to each one, inviting them to find wholeness in Him, not in the wealthy and affluent lifestyles that they had.
And these tax collectors listened intently to Jesus. They were thirsty for hope and for real truth, not the petty traditions that the rabbis and the Pharisees squabbled about. And they went away that night feeling inspired and hopeful.
Bubbling around inside them, simmering down underneath the surface, was this strange desire for change in their lives, to be different.
And all of that was the wonderful result of Jesus’ way of “seeing” people. But wow! What a contrast there was between what Jesus saw and what the scribes and the Pharisees saw.
Their reaction was like, well, pulling a rubber band. And it gets tighter and tighter, and there’s more tension and energy just waiting to be released. All of their broken traditions and broken rules kept replaying over and over again in their minds, and the tension was building.
In a way, it’s like that itching or stinging sensation in your nose. You know what I’m talking about. You know, it builds and then, suddenly, involuntarily, your diaphragm drops and your lungs fill up.
And then the whoosh of release. And what a sneeze that was. As Luke says, they "complained against Jesus’ disciples...."
All their repulsion exploded into a concoction of disapproval, droplets of hate and misery all over the place—on the disciples and just hanging in the air.
They couldn’t spit the words out fast enough. In my paraphrase, “Why do you men eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? They are such socially despicable people, collecting taxes for the Romans. And the others there in that house are just living in open sin. How can your Master even be next to them? Eating and talking to them?”
Oh, that definitely caught Jesus’ ears. What He overheard probably had the same effect on Him as the sight and smell of vomit repulses us.
Well, it was like spiritual vomit—such hatred and bigotry and hypocrisy, and such a lack of compassion spewing out out of their mouths.
So Jesus had to respond. He always seemed to respond when the religious guys, the ones who where supposed to know about God seemed to represent God in a false light. "People who are well," He said to them, "don’t need a physician; only sick people do. My mission is not to call to repentance those who think they’re righteous, only sinners who are open to help." It was as if they had been slapped in the face. Silenced, and embarrassed that they had nothing else to say, they left in a humph.
They couldn’t even imagine that Jesus was eating with these undesirables to plant seeds of truth in their minds? To reclaim them? Ha! Dread the thought. Something I find significant. Only in Matthew’s Gospel does Jesus say something extra that Mark and Luke don’t have.
To the Pharisees, Jesus said, "But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy. Not sacrifice.’"
That was a quote right from the Old Testament from the book of Hosea, chapter 6, verse 6. The full verse says, "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings" (NKJV).
If you would, I would invite you to write that verse down to read it later. Hosea 6, verse 6. You can even compare it with another verse that I think is similar to it. It’s Micah 6, verses 6-8 that is. That’s one way to remember these verses. At least it’s how I remember them. Micah 6, verses 6-8 and Hosea 6, verse 6.
I invite you to study how Jesus applies that verse. Write these references down. Matthew 9, verse 13 and also Matthew 12, verse 7.
And if you like, look at those passages in the Clear Word or the Message Bible, or some other paraphrase, or another modern translation like the New Living Translation. Whatever you’re comfortable with. But study those verses.
I like it in the Good News Bible where it says, "I want your constant love, not your animal sacrifices. I would rather have My people know Me than burn offerings to Me." The implication here for the Pharisees was that they were missing the whole point of religion. They weren’t seeing it.
You see, knowing God for who He is and trusting Him enough to listen to Him is what brings forgiveness and healing and love. There’s no substitute for that. Because God wants people to freely love Him. And God wants to see them love others whom God loves—all of them, everyone of them.
And that is worth far more than all the petty man-made traditions and finely-tuned rules that people make up on their own to use to judge others by.
All they knew was like band-aids—mere surface stuff. The rules of outward behavior, especially the arbitrary ones, were multiplied in sickening detail.
Yes, that’s right. These Pharisees had a huge, gaping wound, oozing out hatred, self-righteousness, selfishness and a grumbling miserableness.
They couldn’t see the truth that they were only using mere band-aids for what was a mortal wound. And they wouldn’t see what Jesus saw. About forgiving and reclaiming sinners. Or even the truth about themselves. They wouldn’t see it.
But that’s what God sees. Anything else we see in this thing we call religion is just like band-aids. That’s all.
So what are you seeing? Do you see what Jesus sees?
Lonnie Melashenko tells the story of a South African woman who saw what God sees. She had come to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. And she sat in the courtroom listening while white police officers described the atrocities that they had committed in the name of apartheid.
A policeman named van de Broek confessed to the murder of her son. At point-blank range he pulled the trigger on her 18-year-old boy.
Eight years later, this same van de Broek and others returned to the old woman’s home to seize her husband, the boy’s father.
And she was forced to watch as they strapped her husband to a woodpile and drenched him with gasoline. You can imagine the rest.
But the last words she heard her husband say were “Forgive them.” The drama especially mounted in the courtroom as the judge asked this woman,“What do you want to say to this man?”
“I want to say three things,” she said calmly. “First, I want Mr. van de Broek to take me to the place where they burned my husband’s body. I want to gather up the dust and give him a decent burial.”
“Second, Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to my home and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him.”
“Third, I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and I forgive him, too.”
Apparently no longer able to see, she continued, “I would like someone to lead me to where he is seated, so I can embrace him and he can know that my forgiveness is real.” — http://www.vop.com/daily_archive.php?date=2007-09-11 That woman saw the heart of God. And that’s what God wants us to see. Not band-aids. The real thing! Mercy and compassion, not sacrifice. Healing, not so-called justice.
A stingy, self-centered focus on rules and more rules will not fill that void. Only knowing God, trusting God and freely loving God can do that. And that’s what Jesus sees. Do you?
Hymn of Praise: #183, I Will Sing of Jesus' Love Scripture: Isaiah 41:10 Hymn of Response: #515, The Lord is My Light
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 5/10/08