The other day I was reading Matthew 9:13, where Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.” I thought about this and thought, “Wow, I can’t think of anything else that sounds like this”. He essentially sent the Pharisees away with homework. I remember thinking, “I should really know what Jesus is talking about since He bothered to assign it”.
I didn’t. So, then I noted that, yet again, Matthew 12:7, says, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Since I certainly don’t want to condemn anyone out of sheer avoidance, I figured that I needed to check it out.
This is a verse that comes from Hosea 6:6, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”. I have two ways to look at this. First, the Pharisees are known for their legalism and Jesus is telling them…false, it is a heart issue. They can come back and talk to Him when they get it. That is a perfectly legit way to see this. Second, let’s wander down the trail of what Jesus is uncovering.
Jesus is concerned with the heart. He cares about relationship. That is what was broken in the garden, relationship and shalom. That is what will be restored at the end of this world. The Pharisees are missing the larger conversation, which happens to us all of the time. We have a skewed idea of the commandments. They were given out of love. They were given as manna, water, a pillar of clouds and fire, and the Promised Land. They are described as right ordinances, true laws, good statutes and commandments (Neh. 9:12-15). The “you can’t dance at this church” rule was not like these rules. These were for the good of the people and it was a privilege to receive such a special symbol of protection and guidance, a covenant from a God who provides for all needs.
The Sabbath was a symbol of rest. There are many wonderful symbols of rest and restoration that are given to the Israelites. Sabbath was a frequent reminder of relationship. It brought to mind the character of God and the way that He desired His people to live. He desires us to labor and rest. But…we can mess up all of that, too. Do you take true times of rest? Every week? That is part of a relationship with Him. How many relationships that you know of that include nap time? That is so awesome.
What if we think of it in terms of a marriage covenant? Some of us look at our wedding ring and it no longer inspires us to thoughts of love, protection, friendship, and covenant. The first thing that we might think of when we see it is, “Oh no, it is 5 o’clock, I have to make dinner”, hardly inspiring one in the previously mentioned direction. Sometimes, covenant becomes rote, like for the Pharisees; it is reduced to task, while the former emotional value is drained slowly through the colander of time. This reduces the bonds of the heart, but we are people of fortitude and commitment, right?
Sometimes marriage becomes about the piece of paper, and that is a reason to stay the course. The Pharisees had position. So, we build feeble responses to the whys. Do you love your spouse? “We have a lot of history together”. Why are you a Christian? “I have been one my whole life”. Why do you go to church? “That is just what we do”. We can suck the covenant right out of marriage and we can suck the covenant right out of being a Christian…we can suck the covenant right out of the Sabbath. Each was built on relationship.
We can safely say that we are people that can emotionally and spiritually emaciate. We just shrivel up until all that is left is the unattractive wrinkled shell of a spiritual life. We could retain the vigor of a spiritual commitment through relationship, but just like the Israelites, we want the golden calf, or we want to blame God (since Moses is not longer around) for trying to kill us when we are experiencing our spiritual growth pains.
We need to reconnect to these relationships. Just as we need to see our wedding band and think, “that is the symbol of my full covenant”, we need to understand that this Christian thing that is not about attendance or potlucks. There are no awards given for this one. In fact Matthew has a series of heart decrees. Chapters 5-7 are dedicated to, clearly, stating, if you are doing anything for show consider it done. God will not acknowledge that offering. So…hope it was worth it. Relationship…relationship…relationship. He just wants our heart.
So, in Matthew 9, Jesus is saying, back off. These verses really epitomize the complete rejection of legalistic judgment in the kingdom. Jesus was in the right space, the home of the spiritually sick, at the right time. He didn’t come for people who are not interested in being in relationship. Above that, He was not interested in who they, the Pharisees, thought He should be. Jesus, the maker of the rules, is telling them that they are spiritually emaciated. They have reduced themselves to a place that they are not capable of authentic relationship. Jesus is capable, however, He is always capable of relationship. It is our choice.
Matthew 12, demonstrates that without relationship, we are incapable of mercy. Jesus wants mercy…not empty sacrifice. He does not care for our reduced version of His creation, His kingdom, or His mercy. We cannot tell Him how it is or how it should be. He is interested that we reflect the investment of our life with Him. He wants our heart. He desires steadfast love and not sacrifice, knowledge of Him rather than offerings.
Father, thank you for challenging us with these passages that are vital to our understanding of you. Let us give you steadfast love, Lord. Remind us of our covenant to you and what it means. Refresh it and revitalize it. Let us gain knowledge of you, today.