In his parables, Jesus often portrayed himself as a person or thing that was necessary for spiritual health. The Pharisees who were identified as separatists, that is exclusively religious (5330), criticized Jesus for associating with people that were notorious sinners (Matthew 9:11). In his response to their criticism, Jesus compared people that were sinful to those that suffered from a physical disease. He said, “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). The word Jesus used that is translated whole, ischou (is-khoo’-o) means to have (or exercise) force (2480). Ischou is sometimes translated as “can” or “be able.” On the other hand, the word sick or in the Greek, kakos (kak-oce’) refers to someone that is associated with evil (2560). It could be assumed that a person that was kakos had degenerated to such a low level of bad behavior that her physical health was affected by it. For example, a heroin addict that resorts to prostitution in order to support her habit.
In describing himself as a physician, Jesus was implying that a cure for sin existed. Rather than rewarding those who were able to keep God’s commandments, and for the most part, lived moral lives, Jesus focused his time and energy on the needs of those who were spiritually destitute. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus stated, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). The Greek term translated poor, ptochos (pto-khos’) refers to a beggar, someone that is penniless and solicits in the street for money or food (4434). Perhaps, the reason Jesus used such an extreme example of poverty to identify those that would inherit the kingdom of heaven was so that there would be no mistaking the impossibility of people being able to do it on their own. The spiritual need that existed in those who sought help from Jesus was much greater than anyone could possibly describe in physical terms. It was comparable to a dead person being brought back to life, which is probably why Jesus performed that type of miracle on more than one occasion.
Looking at his healing ministry as an object lesson in the effects of sin, Jesus’ identification of himself as the physician was meant to encourage those that were “sick” (Matthew 9:12) to admit their failures and come to him for help. Jesus explained to the 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” (Matthew 9:13). In other words, if everyone was following the Mosaic Law and obtaining God’s forgiveness through the sacrifices that were prescribed, there would have been no need for Jesus’ ministry. It was only because the Mosaic Law failed to reform people that God sent his son, Jesus, to be the propitiation or atonement for the sins of his people. Mercy or compassion (1656) was an earmark of Jesus’ ministry and the defining characteristic of him in his role as the physician that came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).