Christ and The Pharisees

Sometimes, when I study a passage, I like to look carefully at the words that are used. If we believe that all Scripture is inspired by God and complete, then the various translations should contain patterns and trends within their covers, that reveal the underlying message from the Almighty, despite variations in the specific words used. In this article, I will share with you four different word study activities that I use sometimes as part of my Bible study. Any one of them brings me new insight. I hope they bless you, too.

Yesterday, I was reading from the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 9, verses 9-13, where Matthew joins Jesus, leaving his business as a tax collector without another thought:

9 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.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

Activity #1: Counting the Words

There are 108 words in this passage, and the words “tax collectors” and “sinners” occur a total of 5 times, with the word “Jesus” appearing three times. The words “disciples” and “Pharisees” are present twice, each. No individual word, except the word “and,” occurs more than three times. The phrase “tax collector” meant more to the Jews of Jesus’ time than it does to us now. The tax collectors were local business people who were paid by the Roman government to collect local taxes. In addition to collecting the required taxes, they collected a fee, sometimes steep, from the citizens: in effect, they ripped them off through a form of graft. The taxpayers knew this, but had no choice but to patronize them. As a result, they were not at all well-liked by the citizens OR the Romans; hence, it is almost always associated with the word, “sinner” in the New Testament. We can see by the most mentioned characters (Jesus and the tax collectors/sinner), that this passage is mostly about sinners, and God’s view of the sinner.

Activity #2:  God’s Way/The World’s Way

The message of this scripture is the difference between the way that Jesus and the Pharisees treated the lesser members of society. So I decided, next, to examine each word phrase, to compare the godly way of perceiving the sinner (Jesus’ actions), versus the worldly way (those of the Pharisees). I read each phrase, then decided whether it was speaking of God’s view of things, or a world view, and sorted them. Here is the result:

God’s Way of Relating to the Sinner

  • “Jesus went on from there…” – God never ceases looking for those in need
  • “… he saw a man, Matthew…” – God actually notices us; as Miles McPherson says it, He sees the “saint within the sinner”
  • “Follow me…” – God calls us to Him and wants us to walk with Him
  • ” … having dinner at Matthew’s house…” – God fellowships with the sinner
  • … on hearing this… ”  God hears  the bad things that are said about the sinner
  • ” … It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” – God considers our sin a curable sickness
  • “Go and learn what this means … ” – God wants us to not just know the Word, but understand and live it
  • “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” – How we treat sinners is more important than gifts we give to God
  • “I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” – Jesus came to gather the sinners

Does this sound like anyone you know? Does this sound like you? But, more importantly, does it sound like me?

The World’s Way of Relating to the Sinner

  • When the Pharisees saw this…” – The world minds the sinner’s affairs from afar
  • ” … they asked His disciples…” – The world talks about sinners behind their backs
  • “Why does your teacher…” – The world does not claim Jesus as its teacher
  • “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” – The world questions kindness toward sinners and  refuses to associate with sinners.

Does this sound like anyone you know? Does this sound like you? But, more importantly, does it sound like me?

At the tax collector

 

Activity #3: How Does God See Me?

For a glimpse at how God sees me, I can also do this exercise: take the Scripture, and substitute my name, or the words, “me” or “I” wherever I see reference to either tax collectors or sinners. It would look a little like this —

As Jesus went on from there, he saw me sitting in my . “Follow me,” he told me, and I got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at my house, many [of my friends] came and ate with him and his disciples. When the [church folk] saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with Kim and her friends?”  On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but Kim [does]. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but Kim.”

Wow… Jesus came to my office and asked me to make a dinner party for Him! AND He told the church folk that He came to the neighborhood JUST FOR ME!

Activity #4: Where do I need to check myself?

Okay. Now for the moment of truth. Let’s do the same activity, except this time substitute my name, “me” or “I” wherever they mention the Pharisees. I can substitute, in the place of “tax collectors” or “sinners” any group of people that is in need in my community, or an individual person:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a drug addict sitting [at the street corner]. “Follow me,” he told him, and the drug addict got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner [with the addict] at [the shelter], many drug addicts and alcoholics came and ate with him and his disciples. When I saw this, I asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat [at the shelter] with drug addicts and alcoholics?” On hearing this, Jesus said [to me], “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.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I do this activity, substituting my own name wherever I see the name of someone who is living according to the flesh, there is always a particular line that gives me a “twinge.” When this happens, I have to stop and think about why.

I hope you found any of these study ideas helpful. Be well, and be blessed!

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