“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13
Do you ever find yourself wishing someone would get theirs? Maybe you’ve been wronged and you wish someone would even the score. Or maybe someone’s done something wrong that harmed a number of people and you merely want to see justice done. There’s a slight problem with that. When you do, you are setting yourself up to get yours as well. You are basically announcing in your heart and mind how you want God to treat everyone (except you!). You see, we always need to have that exception clause in there, because you and I are just as guilty as the next guy. Either there is mercy for you and me and mercy for everybody else, or pay up time for everyone else and for us as well. You can’t have it both ways.
Jesus made this comment to the Pharisees and religious leaders who were judging Him and His disciples for hanging out with the tax collectors and sinners at Matthew’s house. That’s when Jesus asked them to spend some time thinking over a statement that would have been familiar to them from their ancient scriptures, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). I think we could stand to spend some time thinking on this as well. I would tend to be more like the Pharisees — judging the people at Matthew’s house rather than having mercy on them and seeing myself there. I’ve spent most of my life trying to be better, and consequently disqualifying myself from mercy.
Sacrifice is the whole idea of giving up something to get something. We give up our Sunday and think God is pleased. We give up some sin or bad habit and think we are better. We give up fun and think we are more spiritual. (No wonder Christians can be so sour.) It all has to do with works and earning something by giving something up. The Pharisees were trying to work their way to heaven and getting nowhere, while all Matthew’s friends, and Matthew himself, were just being the sinners that they were. They honestly didn’t know any better.
The way to God is by way of His mercy. That’s it. We don’t do anything or give up anything, we just come to Him and admit our sin and our powerlessness over it, and He has mercy on us. God would have mercy on the Pharisees too, if they admitted they needed it. But that’s just their problem, their legalism writes them right out of the mercy of God. They don’t want it. They refuse it, and they abhor sinners who supposedly get it. They don’t hand out mercy because they are quite simply not in the mercy business. They hate the idea of anybody getting something for nothing when they’ve worked so hard for what they think they have.
Conversely, we’ve done nothing to earn God’s mercy, so we are eager to share it with anybody. We are happy to hang out with the folks at Matthew’s house because we are just like them. We are no better off, and we are just happy to be around Jesus, who, by the way, is hanging out with His kind of people, too. This is His crowd. These are people who know they have need of a savior. The religious folks don’t believe they need one and, sadly, that’s the way they want it.
When you end up with the sinners and Jesus is there, you are simply grateful that you get to be there, too.
Let’s keep learning what this means: “God desires mercy, not sacrifice.”