“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

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Continued from Jesus Who?—The Would-Be Stone Throwers.

As in the account of the woman caught in adultery, the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Publican) strikes at the heart of hypocrisy, by addressing those who pride themselves on being righteous. Moreover, Jesus uses the parable to illustrate what God spoke in Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (6:6), and whether the two are directly connected or not, Jesus demonstrates God’s desire for mercy in the calling of Matthew, the tax collector.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14).

Despised by the people, among other things, for collaborating with an oppressive foreign power, tax collectors were well known for enriching themselves at the expense of the poor and marginalized, as well as for running what amounted to a local mafia operation; there were few others more depraved than tax collectors, by biblical standards. Yet, Matthew records his own conversion story: “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” (Matthew 9:9). Matthew was a most unlikely candidate, so it comes as no surprise that the Pharisees questioned the company Jesus was keeping next in the account. “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?’” (Matthew 9:10-11). Quoting from Hosea, Jesus then answers His critics plainly, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus came to call all men to repentance, for all have fallen short, but His call is only effective for those who acknowledge themselves to be sinners.

The scripture considered in this post is full of any number of other revelations and wonderful truths worth exploring, but I have written what I believe the Holy Spirit has guided me to write.

As with the would-be stone throwers in the previous post, Jesus’ response to the Pharisees demonstrates, again, that grace isn’t truly grace without repentance. Jesus drives home the reality that without internal transformation it’s impossible to gain entrance into the kingdom; a transformation out of reach to those who don’t recognize their need. Therefore, teaching otherwise is anything but loving, because it doesn’t lead to Christ at all. No wonder the Lord gave us this warning: “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19-20). Until next time!

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