I have to check my own attitude and emotion when I’m reading the Bible; I see tones of voice in the people speaking in the text which may or may not be there. One such example is Jesus talking to the Pharisees in Matthew 9. He’s addressing their accusation that Jesus and his followers are guilty by association. They spend time with tax collectors, those traitors who sold out to the Roman oppressors, and with (brace yourself) 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.”

Matthew 9:12-13

Jesus tells them to “go” but when we also see “go away” later in this chapter to the mourners at the Synagogue leader’s house, it is worth pausing to find out if these words are the same. The latter is the same word used by Matthew when the Magi go home and again when Joseph takes the family to Egypt. It means something like withdraw. The emphasis is on the removal from the present location for another destination.

The former, our focus here, is “go and do”. It’s the same word when Herod sends the Magi to find Jesus or when Jesus sends the disciples to fetch the colt for the Triumphal Entry, as we call it. Jesus is definitely instructing them, but he is not chiding them or being particularly dismissive.

To me, on a second reading, this feels much more like a reminder of their mission statement as Pharisees than a wagging of the finger. Pharisees were back to the Bible reformers of their day. Debates over the meaning of Scripture were common, and they accepted all of Scripture, not limiting to the Law only but holding to the Law and the Prophets. Quoting from Hosea was just what a Pharisee would do!

Now don’t get me wrong, Jesus wasn’t naïve to the their motives here. He knew they wanted him to give an answer that was Biblically unsound so they could nail him. Gotcha, Jesus! You spend too much time with sinners. You must be a sinner too! But Jesus used the Rabbinic tradition of referring to one verse to invoke the whole and he pointed to a passage that begins with repentance!

“Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.
After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will restore us,
    that we may live in his presence.

Hosea 6:1-2

There was a Gospel message in that reply. “Even these sinners come seeking me. If you knew how sick you were, you’d come for the same healing.”

Ethan Kirl