While dining in the company of publicans (tax-collectors) and sinners, Jesus was criticized by the Pharisees. They asked his disciples, “Why eateth your master with publicans and sinners?” Jesus answered, “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
We understand the concept of mercy. It certainly includes reaching out to those of our fellowman who find themselves in unfortunate circumstances. It means feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, etc.
But there is really no reason to think that these publicans (tax-collectors) were in the depths of poverty. The fact is they were usually well to do. So what is Jesus’ point? These publicans and sinners had a deep spiritual need. They needed the salvation Jesus came to offer. If the Pharisees had had hearts of mercy, they would have rejoiced that Jesus put forth an effort to teach them.
The application – we need to be merciful not only those who are poor in this world’s goods, but especially to those who are lost in sin. We need to extended mercy to others by sharing the gospel with them.