Friday, February 20, 2009

I desire mercy, not sacrifice

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
When Jesus says in Matthew 9:13 that He desires mercy, not sacrifice, what does He mean? I love my close friend Andrea. When we were roommates at Mercy, she would throw out a verse or a reference out of the blue, and I would look it up. We would both seek revelation through the Spirit and through the Word, and the light of the truth would cascade into our room like sunlight pouring in through the curtains on a crystal clear spring morning. Our Lord ministered to both of us through each other’s respective gifts. Andrea is more of a mystic, and I operate more on the intellectual realm. The Spirit and Truth would come together to create the most blessed worship time that either of us could imagine. It has been so sad not to have Andrea around to bless me with her revelations, but the other night, she texted me with this question: Megan, what does it mean when Jesus says that He desires mercy not sacrifice?
I could not wait to dive into the passage in Matthew 9, because I was convinced that God had a precious treasure He was waiting to disclose to me. It is amazing how little effort I have to exert to uncover His revelations. I have to respond to His promptings, however. Not wanting to miss it, I jumped in with both feet.
Jesus is reclining at the table of Matthew the tax collector, in the presence of the “especially wicked sinners.” I love the way that the Amplified stresses the “especially wicked” part. Obviously, according to the Pharisees, these were the worst kind of sinners. They probably consisted of prostitutes, Samaritans, and other outcasts in society. I think that the Pharisees saw this and resented the “especially wicked.” I speculate that there was a part of them that stood jealously watching these interactions and thought, “man, I have worked so hard all my life to be holy and pious, and this Guy who claims to be the Messiah won’t even associate with me. He calls me a white washed tomb, full of rot, for crying out loud! What is up with this?” When I looked up the Greek word for Pharisees, I found that it means the “separatists, the exclusively religious”. The word “Pharisaios” comes from the root word in the Aramaic “peras,” which means “to separate life from the general public.” The Pharisees made up a society of men, zealous for religion. Their attitude was merely external, formal, and mechanical. Their stress was on formal correctness rather than righteousness. Their whole existence was wrapped up in looking healthy, strong, and complete. Their folly was that they strove in their own effort and power. They felt completely self-sufficient. They had it all backwards, however. In their façade of wholeness and health, they missed the Messiah. Jesus says to them in verse 12 of Matthew 9, “Those who are strong and well have no need of a Physician, but those who are weak and sick.” Of course Jesus did not really truly believe that the Pharisees were strong and well. The point here is this: Who is going to go to the doctor when he thinks that he is well? He may have a terminal illness, but as long as he is convinced that he is well, he will not seek help. Lying on his death bed, if he is convinced that he is not sick, he will deny it to his last breath. It may be the case that admitting his illness would save his life. In his pride, he could die of a very treatable disease. What a tragedy this would be! The Pharisees suffered from such a condition.
On the converse, Jesus says that it is the weak and sick who need a physician. He is looking for a spirit of brokenness, where the individual comes to the end of his resources and ADMITS that he is not at all self-sufficient. This is why He healed the paralytic, the woman with the issue of blood, and the blind man. These were not the only ones who were sick in society, but they were the ones who saw their fatal sickness. The woman with the alabaster flask, Matthew the tax collector, the woman caught in the act of adultery: these were the people who cried out to the Physician in their sin-sickness. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul, not the self-satisfied soul.
Jesus says in the following verse, as a plea for those who are healed by the great physician: “I desire mercy, readiness to help those in trouble, and not sacrifice of sacrificial victims.” The mercy called for here is the Greek word “eleos,” which represents ACTIVE compassion. It is the offering of relief from misery. It is rooted and fueled by God’s efforts to remove our own misery. It is the outward manifestation of pity, and it is only possible when God’s mercy is bestowed on the giver. Mercy is the attitude towards those who are in distress. The key word is “active.” As once-sick individuals who received healing from the great Physician, we are able to give mercy actively through service and through meeting the needs of those who are in distress. In the context of this conversation in Matthew 9, the Pharisees were far from this pattern of behavior. They were separatists, who wouldn’t dirty their hands for the “especially wicked sinners,” or for the sick and hurting.
The sacrifice that Jesus speaks of here is the Greek word “thusia,” which sounds to me (in my opinion alone, so throw this out if you don’t agree) like our English word “enthusiasm.” It is the sacrifice of an actual victim to atone for sin or increase purity. This sacrifice was good and fitting under the old covenant and the written Law of Moses, but now there is grace to cover a multitude of sins. True understanding of this Grace leads to an attitude of Mercy and loving-kindness, not sacrifice or enthusiastic pursuit of piety through isolation from society. Yes, the Pharisees are extremely slow and outdated in their religious enthusiasm. The “religious” lifestyle is the main theme in the lives of these “pious ones,” rather than the lifestyle of relationship.
Jesus says, in essence, “ I desire relationship, not religion.” Without this process of recognition of sickness, reception of grace and mercy, and implementation of this grace and mercy, true discipleship is impossible. This truth is why Jesus “reclined” at the table of the societal outcasts and rejects rather than the perfectly organized and clean, kosher tables of the pious Pharisees. Jesus operated under a new code, and this code would revolutionize the world. Will we let it bring us to our knees and then cause us to arise and go out with ACTIVE mercy?

1 comment:

  1. Great post! It's something that few people grasp, and it's so important for having an amazing relationship with God. Thank you.