Mercy, Not Sacrifice

“As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he arose and followed Him. Now it happened as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” - Matt 9: 9-13.

This short exchange of words between the Pharisees, the disciples and Jesus is one of the most profound small events to occur; yet the importance of Jesus’ words isn’t always fully realized by much of the Christian world. What do these few sentences say about the true meaning of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ? This isn’t only a story about Jesus evangelizing to the world, but much, much more.

This is a testament to Jesus’ great love for the ordinary man. He was making a point that the Kingdom of Heaven is open to all people including the un-churched, those who were not religiously pious, and even those who are considered morally corrupt…“sinners”.

Let’s look at Matthew first. Also known as Levi in the Gospels of Luke and Mark, he was a tax collector. Collecting taxes for the Roman government. Tax collectors were seen as traitors since the Romans were viewed as oppressors. They were also despised for inflating the taxes and stealing for themselves. Either way…not a group of people that were much liked or trusted. Matthew is gracious enough to have a feast for Jesus and his disciples in his home, inviting his own friends. Because of Jesus’ miracles and teachings, all sorts of people followed Him wherever He went, curious about what He might say or do next. And because Jesus had such authority, the Pharisees also kept an eye on Him. His mass appeal was a threat to the religious control that the Pharisees had.

So what about the Pharisees?

Well, though much is said about Pharisees, they were not originally such a bad bunch of guys. Pharisees wanted to serve God, following all the laws and commandments to the letter. They wanted to be sure that God’s truths were understood and obeyed. Their intentions were good. And because they wanted to do everything correctly, their desire to serve God turned into absolute perfectionism. They obeyed all Jewish laws of cleanliness, sacrifice and obedience for God. The life of a Pharisee was a life of sacrifice and servitude. They were the examples of how to serve God.

But something always goes wrong with this type of living.
When one strives for perfection…then one also rejects imperfection. So what happens is, because of this sense of looking out for imperfection, one also sees imperfection in people. And imperfection somehow turns into sin, and people who commit such acts become “sinners”. Not a good thing. And because they had sacrificed so much for God, they naturally became PROUD of themselves and set themselves apart from others…from “sinners”.

So here we have the Pharisees, who recognize Jesus’ authority and His connection to God, but they wrongly believe that Jesus must be striving for the same perfection as they are…but they then see Jesus dining with people of imperfection, the unclean…something they have taught themselves to AVOID. Why would Jesus hang out with “sinners” instead of the company of the Pharisees who’s lives were given to serving God? You see it seems the Pharisees would NEVER dine with sinners at the same table, but here Jesus was talking, eating and drinking with them. Naturally they are perplexed.

“Why is your teacher dining with tax collectors and sinners?”

It is the Pharisees who use the word “sinners” to refer to the unclean people that Jesus was being honored by. I suppose today someone might ask a Christian, “Why is Jesus dining with scam artists, prostitutes, drug addicts and homosexuals?”

And what about the disciples? They didn’t have a chance to answer the Pharisees, because Jesus cut into the conversation and answered for them. Why? Because it is Jesus who is making the decision to dine with them. Jesus is stating His position…not someone else speaking for Jesus.

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.”

Referring to the need for spiritual healing of mankind.
This is Jesus’ decision to fellowship with all people regardless of who they are. Just as it is today, it is not just some open church denominations who are including gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender people into their congregation, it is JESUS!  It is Jesus who is including us and all people into His Kingdom! Jesus is speaking up to the religious world and saying…people whom you are excluding because you think they are “sinners”…I AM WELCOMING. And Jesus uses the word “sinners” back to the Pharisees so they will continue to believe that they are the righteous ones. Later rebukes and parables show He doesn’t consider the Pharisees righteous at all.

Now notice this little remark Jesus says to the Pharisees: “But go and learn what this means: Why did Jesus say this? Because Jesus knows all about the Pharisees. That was their thing! Debating, analyzing, arguing, dissecting, trying to get the exact meaning of every word in the Scripture. Yet they couldn't recognize COMPASSION because their hearts were empty! He is basically saying, “Go off and study, have your meetings, discussions and debates and try to figure what LOVE is all about. Jesus knew they would NEVER GET IT, because love, compassion and mercy CANNOT be learned by studying but only by each person's experience of pain, rejection, struggle and suffering. It is a HEART MATTER.

Jesus continues,‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”
Jesus is referring to Hosea 6:6 which says:
“For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

The Pharisees taught themselves that serving God was all about performing rituals, sacrificing burnt offerings and keeping traditions. Yet see how God feels about all of this done...without love.

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.  Amos 5:21-22

And Isaiah 1

“The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Isaiah 1:11-16

Now see in the next verse which tell what God REALLY desires:

“Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. Isaiah 1:17

Serving God is not about self sacrifice to gain God's approval, but about loving, serving and caring for OTHERS.

And Jesus was saying that the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and their judgment of the tax collectors, sinners …ordinary people…was wrong.

Today is no different than back then. Many religious Christians and churches of all denominations have analyzed the Bible and decided that being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender is a sin and that we are in effect…“sinners”. Their churches teach self-denial and staying away from sin and sinners, just like the Pharisees. So many Christians today try to be righteous...yet do it without loving, caring or helping ANYONE ELSE.

Jesus is telling us that it is a SIN to view ANYONE with contempt and that the kingdom of God is about JUSTICE, MERCY, COMPASSION and LOVE for ALL His people. The Gospel is an invitation to everyone no matter who they come back to God. WE are the sinners who need a physician. It is NOT about living a perfect life of sacrifice and denial, but about ALL of us coming together to love God and love, serve and care for each other.

This is what He is saying. Praise and glory to Jesus our King!

© 2003, 2011 Edrick

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