While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:10-13
Our Master Jesus was full of surprises as He ministered in His mortal life. Earlier in Matthew’s narrative we see that He touched a leper when there was no apparent need to do so. Here we see that He purposefully chose a man to be His disciple who was known to be a sinner. Considering the criticism leveled at Him for simply eating with Matthew and his associates, imagine what the buzz would have been when people found out that Matthew was now a committed follower of the holy Rabbi!
Jesus was not ashamed of His decisions to call Matthew to follow and to dine with him. He hadn’t had a lapse in judgment. No, His decisions were perfectly in line with the purpose He had in coming to us. He hadn’t come to congratulate the righteous; He had come to seek out and rescue the lost.
In response to His self-righteous critics, our Master quoted the prophet Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6). God had said to the self-deceived Israelites of generations past that His priority was mercy, not the ceremonial slaughter of animals at the Temple. Mercy means bringing help to those in distress, and Jesus was doing that in Matthew’s life in a way His enemies just couldn’t understand. Jesus saw in Matthew a value and a future that was worth pursuing.
As disciples of Jesus, we are meant to value what He values and prioritize what He prioritizes. We must learn what it means that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. How do we live out that truth in our day-to-day lives? Have we come to understand that God is most pleased by the genuine and joyful kindness we show to others who have needs? Have we escaped the trap of religiosity which seeks to measure righteousness based on ceremonial and ritualistic compliance? Many people who consider themselves religious will one day be shocked to find out that Jesus was never impressed with their church attendance or tithing or baptismal certificates. He’ll have no regard for these if He doesn’t also see expressions of compassionate love and care for others as a way of life. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
Don’t be afraid of others’ opinions, Disciple. Go ahead and show mercy to the ones who need it – no matter how they appear to others (even ‘religious’ others). Follow the mission and passion of your Master, and know that He will be pleased as you follow in His footsteps of mercy.
Learning to show mercy as I’ve received mercy,