Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
I desire mercy and not sacrifice – Go and learn what that means! Matthew 9:13
The questions we need to ask ourselves as we consider Jesus’ command to “go and learn” are as follows:
1. What is stopping us from befriending unbelievers?
2. What are we afraid of?
3. What do we have to lose?
4. Who said we couldn’t have worldly friends?
I moved up to northern California six years ago from San francisco, and every time I tell a friend that I am going back for vacation or for a visit, I get several reactions. Sometimes I hear – “oh boy, when I visited that place a few years ago, I felt the spiritual oppression just fall on me.” Other times I get the – “man I will be praying for you, I hope fire and brimstone don’t fall while you are there.” Even still, I get a question – “what did you say, San fran-sicko?”
What does Jesus mean by – “I desire mercy not sacrifice?” Well, in Matthew 9 the Bible tells us that Jesus called Matthew. Keep in mind that Matthew is a tax collector and in fact a sinner in the eye of many Jews. While they were reclining at a table eating dinner and having a good time, the bible say that many more tax collectors joined in. This was scandalous to Jews, especially the Pharisees who complained about it.
To this Jesus responded – “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, quoting from Hosiah. According to old testament history, there were two traditions that Jews strive to keep. These created a certain tension for when ever they tried to observe these traditions, especially with the radical Jesus in town. The first tradition is one of holiness and the other about justice – God’s just punishment for sin.
Here Jesus is saying I understand your desire to stay away from anything that is sinful and unlawful or anything that could lead into sin. But, could it be that you are missing what God actually desires. He desires mercy. But here you are demanding sacrifice. Sacrifice is the issue about purity. Mercy is the ability to look past one’s sin, spiritual condition and allow space for love and grace and mercy. It happens when we truly love the sinner and hate the sin. Mercy says I will befriend you, I will eat with you, I will hang out with you. Sacrifice says, you are not pure enough, you might contaminate me, you need to be punished for your sinful lifestyle.
Jesus told the Pharisees “I desire mercy, but right now your attitude toward these unbelieving tax collectors is keeping them away from the welcome and love I am showing them.” In his eyes, these were the people who actually need a physician. So he said, “go and learn what it means to desire mercy and not sacrifice.”
You can sense a certain level of tension here as these Pharisees struggle with the two words – ‘mercy and sacrifice.’ The lesson he wants us to learn in Matthew 9 is how can a believer; how can the church community become missional in the world and still maintain his purity. How can we be welcoming to as many as possible and still maintain this sense of purity and justice. How can we befriend others with different opinions and just be light in dark places not compromising or watering down the truth of His word. Is it possible?
Yes it is possible!
After Matthew’s life was transformed by this radical kind of love and mercy, he started hosting these parties where he invited his tax collecting sinner friends. He also brought Jesus and the other disciples in to mingle with these unbelievers. As a result, many of his friends became followers of Jesus. Could this be a pattern for us to follow? Yes!
Get rid of the attitude of “us against them”
Intensionally befriend unbelievers
Pursue friendship no strings attached
Be present, regular and involved in their lives
Be real, live holy, be human, be honest
Host a Matthew Party, invite your worldly friends, invite your pastor and other believers to mingle with them.