July 13 I Tuesday
“With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God?...He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” —Micah 6:6, 8
As Jesus is being criticized and judged by the Pharisees for eating with the enemy—the tax collectors and sinners—Jesus tells the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13). Jesus quotes directly from the Old Testament text in Hosea 6:6. The word “mercy” that Jesus uses is eleos in Greek, which means “compassionate treatment for those who are in distress; kindness or good will towards the miserable and the afflicted, joined with a passion to help lift them out of their trouble.” God desires a life of mercy, not sacrifice.
The Pharisees were experts at sacrifice. They lived the strictest lifestyle one could live with countless rules that were expanded from the Old Testament laws on how to live a righteous life. Yet, what Jesus was saying to them is, “You have a fundamental lesson to learn, and it makes all the difference in the world. You, Pharisees, are experts in sacrifice, but your hearts are far from God’s heart for mercy.”
There is a difference between sacrifice and a life of mercy. Sacrifice not only reinforces, but also inflates our own sense of self-righteousness before God as we gloat, “Look at what I have done. Look at the things that I have abstained from.” Mercy, however, forces us to look outward to the needs of others and feel for others who are in distress and take action to lift them out of their pain. In Jesus’s response to the Pharisees, He is telling them to go and learn, go and see, go and listen—go and have your heart broken by the pain of others.
When we have experienced God’s mercy at work in our life, we become a joyful participant in a ministry of mercy. But when we lose sight of mercy towards us and we fail to understand that we ourselves are in need of mercy, it is easy to become focused on sacrifice in an attempt to maintain our self-righteousness and approval.
After 24 years of being a Christian, what I find most alarming about my own heart is my propensity to be more like a Pharisee than like Jesus. It is easy for me to judge others without even knowing their story, neglecting to realize the broken paradigms or sinful patterns that can shape or influence my own thinking. What is powerful about table fellowship is that when we get to know the other person as we listen to their story, compassion and love begin to grow in our hearts. Mercy starts to fill our understanding and we come to learn what Jesus meant when He said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
Prayer: Precious Jesus, thank You for Your mercy in my life. Teach me to live a life of mercy, and grow my heart to have compassion and love towards others as You have towards me. Amen!