Mercy, Not Sacrifice

“But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice…‘” Matthew ix:13

The religious folks of Jesus’ time were quite judgmental. They often judged Jesus’ motives and actions based on their mistaken notions of spirituality. Thus, they accused Jesus of breaking God’s laws even though He was blameless in God’s sight. In our zeal for God, we too may fall into this trap. We may presumptuously find fault with those who are innocent in God’ eyes.

When Jews of the strict sect called Pharisees saw Jesus and His disciples dine with a bunch of ‘sinners’ and ‘tax collectors’ – Jews who greedily collaborated with Rome to oppress their own people – they asked His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” (Matt ix:11; Luke v:30) In other words, they were saying: “We are patriotic Jews who wait for our Messiah who will redeem us from these Romans. And here comes one who claims to be the Messiah and he eats with the collaborators! Do you still want us to believe that Jesus is the Messiah?”

Once, Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. When some Pharisees saw this, they were upset. They said, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath” (Matthew xii:2). They were more concerned about some strict interpretation of a law than about the well-being of those hungry disciples. On both occasions, Jesus showed these self-appointed judges that He knew the Scriptures better than they did. He cited apt examples from the Old Testament to show how God’s people apparently violated the Sabbath laws and were still not guilty before God. For example, a priest could circumcise a child on a Sabbath day and still be blameless (John vii:23).

More significantly, Jesus asked these conceited men to “go and learn” what God meant when He said, “I desire mercy/compassion, and not sacrifice” (Hosea vi:6). The Hebrew word chesed may be rendered as mercy, compassion and loving kindness. Sacrifices were costly; yet God did not wish to see such meticulous observance of the ritualistic law if a devotee did not exhibit tenderhearted mercy–one of God’s defining characteristics. Learning the meaning of God’s Word is a remedy for pride and presumptuous behavior.

The victims of such misplaced judgments can breathe easy because they are innocent in God’s eyes. They may not measure up to a certain human standard of behavior. They may be castigated and isolated by well-meaning ‘godly’ persons. Jesus will speak up for them just as He defended His disciples, saying, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not a sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent” (Matthew xii:7). When the kindness of some is nothing but cruelty, God’s loving kindness is better than life and it endures forever.

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