“They That Be Whole Need Not a Physician, But They That Are Sick”
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.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:
“Sometime after his call, Matthew appoints a great feast in his house in honor of Jesus; perhaps also it is a farewell feast for his fellow publicans, for they are there in great numbers. Matthew himself says ‘many publicans and sinners came and sat down’ with Jesus and His disciples. The social outcasts of society are celebrating—sinners being among them—and the Son of God and His newly called disciples sit in their midst, eat the food, and partake of the hospitality. Beholding such a scene, the scribes and Pharisees murmur. Why, they query, do Jesus and His disciples eat and drink with publicans and sinners? The questions are put to the disciples, but the answers come from Him who sets the tone of those festivities which we must believe He found enjoyable.
“‘They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick,’ He says. Such is the proverb of the day, which Jesus here uses with a veiled sarcasm, as though He had said, ‘You self-righteous Pharisees think you have no need of my healing doctrine, and so I go to these sick publicans and sinners to make them whole.’ Actually, of course, no one needed a physician more than the spiritually sick Pharisees.
“‘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.’ The Pharisaic religion was one of ritualistic forms, of rules and ceremonies, of rites and sacrifices; it was a religion that held them aloof from publicans and sinners. Jesus is here telling them that if they knew that mercy, love, charity, and all the attributes of godliness were more important than their ritualistic performances, they too would eat and drink with sinners and seek to do good to all men.
“Truly, Jesus came to save sinners; and if He can take a Paul, an Alma, and a Matthew from their lowly spiritual states and raise them to apostolic and prophetic stature, surely He can pour out good things on the spiritual publicans of the world, to the end that all who will repent shall find salvation in His Father’s kingdom.”
(The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 2:57–58.)