As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector's booth; and He *said to him, "Follow Me!" And he got up and followed Him. Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, "Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?" But when Jesus heard this, He said, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. "But go and learn what this means: 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,' for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matthew 9:9-13 NASB)
This is a passage that has been abused so often by the Church as a means to justify licentiousness and folly. How often do we hear some evangelical say ‘where would Jesus hang out, and with who’ and everyone chimes in ‘He would be in the bars, and with prostitutes, and at the night clubs.’ Of course they will site this passage and others that on the surface seem to support their proposition, and in some sense I agree entirely with what they are saying. Jesus indeed would have hung out in the night clubs... with harlots and drunks. Now the next logical step is always to say that we need to be like Christ... to walk as He walked, and to do the things that he has done. Therefore logically we too must go to the night clubs, visit the drunks and prostitutes and so on. Again, I would agree with this as well... but it is not the complete story.
What was Christ’s purpose of reclining with ‘sinners’? To call sinners... to call them to what? Well what is Christ’s consistent call throughout the Gospel narrative? Repentance and faith! Jesus reclines with sinners, not as if He is one of them, He does not lower Himself by any means or become a sinner, but He enters the situation as a physician not as a sick man. He enters with the intent of healing to call sinners to repentance. His intent is to call those who are in sin to follow Him. Now are we to go to these places as Christ has gone? Of course... but only if we go with the purpose He went with. Our problem is that we will use this passage and others to justify worldliness as opposed to reading this passage and being empowered as missionaries to these environments. You see, if you are in this environment participating in sin you miss the point. Who wants a physician who is always sick? And if I am always sick do you really want to see my doctor? Of course not, yet if we drink down sin like water our message of a savior that leads us out of sin becomes invalid. We are called to be in the world, are not called to be like the world and there is all the difference in the world.
Now one of the other problems with the interpretation of this verse is that whenever a believer is rebuked for participating in ungodliness the will accuse the one rebuking of being like the Pharisees who questioned what Christ was doing. However, the accusation against the one rebuking is entirely out of bounds unless the Christian is in the environment of sinfulness as an intentional missionary bringing the healing message of the Gospel.
Also, one think you may consider, the Pharisees approached the disciples and asked why Jesus was in eating with the sinners, do you notice that the disciples were not in eating with them? Did you notice that it was Christ in there calling them out to follow Him, yet the disciples were on the outside being approached by the Pharisees? Now do not take this too far either. As believers we are not called to stand on the outside and wait for Christ to go in. We have been given the Holy Spirit and may indeed be called to go in and proclaim the salvation Christ offers if that is the Spirit’s direction. At the same time the Spirit never impels us to sin so that grace may abound.
Ok I suppose I have beat that into the ground enough.