Last week, I spent a lot of time visiting at the hospital. As I was working to rearrange meetings so I could be there for those I love, I was reminded of one of my favorite passages of scripture-
11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
This has not always been one of my favorite passages, and I bet most people skim over it and don’t really consider the implications of this verse. But as I have dug deeper into the life of Christ and what it means to follow Him, this passage keeps coming back to me.
First, you must consider the context. In the few verses before this, Christ calls Matthew to be one of His disciples. Matthew was a tax collector, not the ideal job in Biblical times and probably not the resume you would pick out if you wanted to find someone who would spread your message of hope and compassion to the ends of the earth. But that’s what Jesus did. He saw the potential in people. He gave them value and entrusted them with a great mission before they were considered worthy. After Jesus calls Matthew, He goes to eat at his house and naturally Matthew invites a bunch of his friends over. Enter the passage above. The religious of the day did not understand why Jesus would eat with Matthew’s friends (the tax collectors and sinners).
This is just one reason why I love Jesus. He doesn’t miss a beat and He doesn’t argue with the Pharisees on why He should be or should not be eating with them. He simply recounts for them His mission and charges them to consider what He means- “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
Consider those words: mercy and sacrifice.
Compassion or forbearance shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one’s power;
A blessing that is an act of divine favor or compassion
The act of giving up something that you want to keep especially in order to get or do something else;
An act of offering to a deity something precious
The Pharisees were good at sacrifice. That was their job description. But Christ comes and says, “Look, I know you are really good at sacrifice, but I really want you to work on mercy. That is how I operate.” Christ was about to become the ultimate sacrifice in order to offer us ultimate mercy. And as He walked on earth, He practiced mercy. He ate with the tax collectors, He cared for the poor and the widow, He loved people who would never be able to return the favor. And He didn’t stand around arguing His point or defending His stance. He did not justify to the Pharisees why He was eating with Matthew’s friends. He simply reminded them of His mission on earth- “I have come to call the sinners.”
Mercy shows love without expectation. And Christ was the ultimate example. He invites us to follow Him, to learn what it means to desire mercy. To love others. And to spend time with those who need to know and understand the hope and love of a Savior who spent His time with the tax collectors and sinners.
So go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’