Matthew 9:13 (ESV) … “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The Pharisees’ question apparently made its way to Jesus’ ears, and Jesus had an answer for the self-righteous, influential religious leaders. The first part of Jesus’ answer was from a common proverb on the healthy and the sick. Those who are well do not seek out a physician; the physician’s waiting room is filled with those who are sick. They recognize their need and come to the one who can make them well. The physician, in turn, spends his time helping the sick get well.
Jesus then told these self-righteous Pharisees to go and learn what this means, implying that they did not understand their own Scriptures. Rabbis said, “Go and learn,” to students who did not understand or apply correctly God’s Word and needed to go back and study more. The Pharisees thought they knew Scripture perfectly; Jesus told them to go back and study again the words of God spoken through the prophet Hosea, I desire mercy and not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). Hosea’s words were not a blanket condemnation of the sacrificial system of the Jewish nation at the time; rather, God was condemning a thoughtless, mechanical approach to sacrifice. A religious ritual helps when carried out with an attitude of love for God. If a person’s heart is far from God, ritual will become empty mockery. God did not want the Israelites’ rituals; he wanted their hearts. Jesus challenged the Pharisees to apply Hosea’s words to themselves. The Pharisees’ rigid guidelines had created an artificial distinction between the “righteous” and “sinners.” As a result, the religious leaders, who should have guided and taught the people, had instead separated themselves. Thus, the “worship” of the religious leaders was as empty as a sacrifice given without thought of God. God wants a heart attitude that includes a right relationship with him and with others, an attitude that reaches out to those in physical and spiritual need.