Friday, February 05, 2010

"I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice"

Jesus was a prophet. Therefore Jesus stood in the prophetic tradition--the great tradition of Hebrew Bible that emphasizes justice and mercy, especially for the oppressed. This means that if there was a decision to be made between our spiritual practices and mercy, he would always choose mercy. 

And that's clearly the case when Jesus cites Hosea 6:6, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice" as he calls a tax-collector, Matthew, to be his disciple, thereby scandalizing some of the most prominent religious leaders and biblical teachers of his day, the Pharisees. (See Matthew 9:9-13.)

Now lest we think the Pharisees were bad guys, remember that they were a reform movement in 1st century Judaism that desired to do the right things--to study the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and to live a life pleasing to God through rigorous observance of God's commands like eating kosher and practicing the Sabbath. It seems, however, they desired sacrifice--the sacrifice of right religious practice--more than mercy.

You see ,Jesus believed that caring for the hurting was more important, and when there was a conflict mercy must win over doing the right spiritual practices:
6On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, "Get up and stand in front of everyone." So he got up and stood there. Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?" 10He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. (Gospel of Luke, chapter 6)
But Christians today would never be accused on that, right? We'd never rush to our Bible studies, church services, or committee meetings, and pass by someone in need, a neighbor who needs a listening ear, a fellow student who needs a hand, or a needy person in our path?  Would we?

Maybe we need to remember again that there are times when we need to remember Jesus's emphasis: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."

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