Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 12. The Divine Doctor
Mt 8:11,12 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and `sinners’?” 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.”
The analogy within these verses is so simple and yet if you said to any ordinary person, “You’re sick!” they would quite probably be offended. However, the truth of these verses goes right to the heart of the human predicament: we are all of us contaminated by this thing called Sin, a propensity to be self-centred and godless, not a physical ailment but equally an ailment, one that affects the heart (the centre of a person’s being, not the muscle that pumps blood around the body), one that is spiritual and having far greater effect that any physical ailment might have.
Jesus had been meeting with tax collectors, those collaborators with the Romans who were hated by the people at large, and ‘sinners’, the low life of society we might say today. This caused critical comment from the self-righteous Pharisees, guardians of the Law and of society’s ethics. Jesus overheard their critical grumblings and gave the above explanation. He clearly portrays himself as a doctor in this analogy, and doctors go to sick people and sinners are sick people.
Now we should never use this analogy as an excuse for sin because there is a distinct self-will element to it; we can run with this propensity that I referred to or seek to resist it, and when we fail to overcome it (as Paul explained in Romans 7), we turn to Christ to empower us to overcome it (see Romans 8). Nevertheless, it is a good analogy. Sin is a sickness. Think about this.
Sickness is an unnatural or abnormal physical or mental state of ill health. I use the word ‘unnatural’ because the natural state of a human being is to have good health and illness is an attack on that caused by either a deficiency of some kind or an attack by a disease or infection. Something is working in the human body to bring it down, to limit its actions, to prevent growth and proper development, even to destroy it. Now think of each of these descriptions and apply them to Sin.
Sin is unnatural or abnormal. It is not how God created the first man and woman; they had no sin, but the moment they disobeyed God – they sinned – Sin became an inherent part of human nature, an outworking of the human will. It’s heart is ‘self’ and its outworking is godless unrighteousness i.e. it is always in respect of God. In Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son the son comes to himself and says, “I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” (Lk 15:18) Sin is always against God, and may be against another human being.
The apostle Paul demonstrated the power of sin when he wrote, at length, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Rom 7:14-20) You can’t make it more clear than that! If a person has the flu, you know there is no point saying, “Come on, snap out of it, get up, get on!” Even worse, imagine them with, say, typhoid fever or malaria where they might be delirious. How pointless it is just demanding they ignore it and get on with life!
Now this is the same reality with Sin. You can try to be as nice as you like but ultimately you will still be self-centred and godless. You may try to be religious to overcome this propensity but in reality it is still self-effort that ignores God’s remedy, and is thus godless! The truth is that we are sin-sick and we need a doctor. Now imagine a doctor is called to the home of a seriously sick child. The parents will want to know two things: first, what is the illness and, second, what is the remedy for it?
So doctor Jesus comes to the world to confront it with the fact of its sickness. He does that by demonstrating his utter goodness which shows up even the top religious leaders and makes them really upset. He also does it in his teaching and his call to people to receive his Father’s love and rule. But what is the remedy for this sin-sickness? It is twofold? It is to receive Jesus’ redeeming work on the Cross whereby our sin, shame and guilt were all taken by Jesus, and it is also to surrender to him and receive his Holy Spirit to be born again, empowered by his Spirit to enable us to rise to new heights with a new life that puts Sin to death (Rom 6:11) and whenever the enemy seeks to resurrect it, we reject it and turn away from it and to God (Rom 6:12,13). THIS is what Jesus came to bring.
So why did he not go to the Pharisees, why the tax collectors and sinners? Have you ever noticed that human tendency to denial? Symptoms arise in your partner and you point them out. They deny anything is wrong. The symptoms persist and you continue to point them out. They continue to deny them until they get to a level where they interrupt life and have to be faced. We referred earlier to the fact that the Pharisees were self-righteous, and that was true of the chief priests etc. as well. They thought they were righteous because they were religious, even though the religion they had was a far cry from anything God had instituted to help Israel.
However, when it came to the tax collectors and ‘low life’ they knew exactly what they were like and when a life-belt was thrown them they grabbed at it. Zacchaeus was a classic example of that (see Lk 19) as were many others of that grouping. They just needed Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance and they came running into the kingdom to receive the ‘healing’ that only heaven can provide – unconditional love, acceptance, forgiveness, cleansing and adoption.
It is a simple little analogy but a powerful one, especially as you see Jesus working it out with these particular people. Now although the primary work is done at our conversion, the ongoing ‘healing’ process goes on for the rest of our lives. Theologians call it sanctification and once the overall ‘disease’ has been dealt with and its power broken, the ongoing process deals with deep down attitudes that may still surface to be dealt with, or has to confront ongoing opportunities for us to get it wrong when confronted with difficult situations or difficult people. It will only be by God’s grace and His love flowing in and through us, will these times of conflict and temporary failure be reduced. It is an ongoing process and He continues to love us every day until we come face to face with Him, then to be with Him and enjoy Him and be enjoyed by Him for eternity. Hallelujah!