When I hear the word ‘mercy’, a few things come to mind: my favorite band growing up, MercyMe; forgiveness; grace; my momma laughingly responding “mercy, child!” to many overly rambunctious moments I had (y’all, I was HYPER); the way it sounds like “thank you” in French if you pronounce the ‘e’ like ‘eh’. Mercy. Merci. Thank you.
I’ve been reading through Matthew lately and in my journaling I found a theme: Mercy. In chapter 9, Jesus calls Matthew to follow Him and they end up dining in Matthew’s house with “many tax collectors and sinners”. The King of Kings reclining with the lowly. Ah, what a picture of mercy. But the Pharisees, blind from pride in their knowledge, they did not interpret the scene as so.
vs. 11-12 And when the Pharisees saw they, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he [Jesus] heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” [emphasis added]
Later in chapter 12, Jesus and His disciples had been healing and teaching many crowds. They were tired, and they were hungry, and it was the Sabbath. They happened to be walking through a grainfield so they plucked the heads of grain and ate. Perfect timing to be walking through a grainfield, right? Again, that’s not how the Pharisees saw it.
vs. 2-7 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him [Jesus], “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which is was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”[emphasis added]
So much could be unpacked from both responses Jesus gave, SO MUCH. There is grace, freedom, love, His calling…so much, people. But since He said “go and learn…if you had known…I desire mercy over sacrifice”, that is what I will attempt in this post.
Jesus had many things to say about the Pharisees. They were knowledgeable of the law and scrolls written of old, but only kept the parts they wanted, and added as they wished. Obviously one of the parts they missed was Hosea 6:6; “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” Their knowledge was false, or else they would have known Jesus as Messiah. They would have been loving the tax collectors and sinners with Jesus rather than condemning them and the King that ate with them. They would have not cared that work was being done on the Sabbath, but have taken joy that Jesus and His disciples were able to eat when they were hungry. Oh but I am just like the Pharisees. I question the motives and hearts of my brothers and sisters and miss out on what God is really doing in their lives. I judge the sinners for being sinners, when I myself do the same thing.
But the question I keep asking as I’m reading these passages, what were the Pharisees sacrificing in those very moments that The Lord was saying He did not desire? They weren’t at alters burning calves or anything. They were out walking. So why did Jesus bring up that piece of scripture? My guess-and hear me, I’m no John Piper-is that Jesus was referring to the Law as a whole, and how He had come to fulfill the Law, because man alone cannot. Jesus came to be the ultimate sacrifice to atone for sin, so they no longer needed to do it on their own with burnt offerings. Also, by not accepting nor showing His mercy and compassion, the Pharisees were sacrificing a relationship with Jesus. When I choose to take in a moment with judgement rather than mercy, I sacrifice joy. When I show pity on a person rather than compassion, I sacrifice the joy that comes with meeting that persons need through Jesus. Jesus does not take joy from me, I give it up when I give myself the power to condemn. But who am I?!
Jesus took on the full meaning of mercy; a blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion, shown especially to an offender. You and me, we are the offenders of Christ. Just like our world demands punishment to those who do us wrong, our wicked heart and crooked ways have condemned us to death; eternal separation from God. But justice is not the same here on earth as it is in heaven. Praise God for that!! Justice to God is mercy. And that He showed when He sent His holy, perfect Son to this merciless land and let Him die a wicked man’s death. The power of the Holy Spirit rose Him from the grave, and now that very same Spirit gives us the opportunity to choose mercy; to choose Jesus! Hallelujah!!
This blog has the title “Greater Desires” because that is what I want to seek-the greater desires of God, not this world. And I can only seek and find when I ask. (Matt.7:7) So if God’s desire is mercy, then that should be our desire as Hid children. How many times must the Holy Spirit tell me to love my enemy? Or how can I be showing mercy when in my heart I am questioning someone’s motives and judging their actions? I reckon I will relearn these lessons many more times in my life. But God is still God, and I am not. And in those moments of my mess and weakness, He bestows upon me and reminds me “Mercy, child. Mercy.”
Merci, Father. Merci.
Micah 6:8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. [emphasis added]