This evening I listened to a message on the scripture passage which makes up the title of this blog: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” It was a short homily that God whispered into Father Jake’s ear in order to meddle in my life and remind me (again) of what matters most.
When Jesus informs the religious leaders of his day that the Father’s desire is mercy and not the age-old sacrificial system under which they lived and breathed, he was without a doubt dropping an atomic bomb into their world of law and order. Jesus was making it clear that God’s heart is one that favors mercy over judgment, grace over law. Law and judgment ought not trump grace and mercy. What was an A-bomb in Jesus’ day is no less world-shattering for me today.
Because every day I find myself withholding mercy from someone when it suits me.
My wife pointed out to me not too long ago that I seem to have an endless supply of mercy to extend towards addicts and atheists. She went on to point out, lovingly, that my mercy bucket seems to be very limited towards Christians who voted for Trump. She is right about that.
Most recently she and I found ourselves in the midst of an argument – a power struggle – where I was unwilling to give. My desire to be right was outweighing my mandate to love. I was withholding mercy because I felt that extending it would mean I have to surrender my right to be right. My perspective on the situation left me feeling like unless she sacrificed something, I had every right to stand in judgment.
Jesus said he desires mercy, not sacrifice.
This is humbling as I realize the countless ways my Pharisaic heart has a bent towards sacrifice. And it’s not just with others. I demand it of myself, too. Have you ever tried to please God by being a better person? Ever mess up, relapse, do something you know is wrong and then avoid spending time with God because you felt like you had to clean up your act – make sacrifices – before you could be in God’s presence? Have you ever felt convinced that your flat tire was God’s punishment on you because you weren’t doing enough right things – making the right sacrifices – to please him? Ever felt like if you could just stop acting out in your addiction than God would love you? Yeah, me too.
Jesus said he desires mercy, not our sacrifices.
So yes, while it’s humbling to face the reality that I am still a person who needs reminded to be a person of mercy rather than sacrifice, it’s also liberating and, perhaps a bit surprising, that God is already this way in spades towards you and I. God is surrounding us in bucket loads of mercy amid all our faults and failures. God loves mercy and he loves making it new for us every morning. There is no sacrifice you and I need to make to settle up with God because that has already been taken care of in Jesus.
God lives in mercy towards us and invites us to do the same with each other. This sounds like a far better way to live, don’t you think?