10 ¶And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples.
11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?
12 But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.
13 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)
I knew that Jesus said he was sent to heal the spiritual sick, but I was a bit confused about that part in verse 13. I had this idea Jesus was saying the Pharisees should be merciful to the sinners, or else saying He as the Son of God wanted to have mercy for his disciples rather than their sacrifices.
This time when I read it, I noticed a footnote to Hosea 6:6, which I went and looked at, including its context. I got a different impression from the meaning than I had before.
4 ¶O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee? O Judah, what shall I do unto thee? for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.
5 Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth: and thy judgments are as the light that goeth forth.
6 For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4-6)
Hosea called attention to how transitory Israel’s righteousness was, and how quickly they wandered from God. The words of the prophets, since they spoke the Law of Moses, taught them the right way, but also revealed how lost and fallen they were.
Therefore, the proper attitude of worship when making sacrifices was to seek for God’s mercy with faith in the Messiah’s sacrifice, rather than exulting in one’s own obedience. If they approached their sacrifices with an attitude of, “Look at me; I’m so obedient to offer sacrifices,” then they totally missed the point. But if they approached it from the perspective of, “I need to be redeemed; I need the mercy from the Messiah’s atonement, which my sacrifice is meant to remind me of,” then they would be prepared for the Lord’s redeeming power to work on them.
So when Jesus told the Pharisees to learn what Hosea meant about wanting mercy more than sacrifice, He meant they needed to learn their need for His mercy. They hadn’t realized that yet. They thought they were enough by themselves.
Every once in a while, you hear people spouting that affirming line, “You are enough,” in order to encourage people who feel inadequate. No, we are not enough. We need the Lord’s mercy. We are not enough, but His grace is sufficient.