Jesus tells the Pharisees to learn the meaning of the phrase, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” He is quoting from Hosea, one of their prophets.
Pharisees desired sacrifice. Their self-measurement was often based on how much they gave up to please God. Their history of sacrifice included many offerings to pay the price for their sin. The blood of animals, the first fruits of their harvest and tithes of all their increase marked their obligations to Jehovah.
Every generation of Christendom has also had followers who measure their godliness by their sacrifice. Separation from the world, dedication to the church and personal devotion are characteristic responses of people who are sick of the world and seeking something better. No price is too high and no sacrifice too great in following after truth.
But Jesus says something else here. God has more desire to show mercy to us than to exact payment from our failures. God is willing to pay the whole price just to have us as His own. Like the message of Hosea, God is married to a prostitute and wants to win her heart.
Jesus wants the Pharisees and us to think about mercy as our motivation. What is the difference?
-payment for failure
-demand for justice
-based on what you have
-eye for eye and tooth for tooth
- to gain approval
-gift in spite of failure
-a call for love
-based on what you do not have
-denial of retribution
-to invite acceptance
How does this play out in our choices? What are your motives for being a follower of Jesus? There is no better reason than mercy.
Recognizing that God has been generously merciful to sick sinners, we adopt the code of mercy. Our lives will focus on loving those who have not earned our favour. We will live satisfied with forgiveness rather than demanding retribution for the wrongs against us.
We will go out of our way to entertain strangers and surround our lives with sinful people for the purpose of paying forward on the mercy we received from God.