“But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but the sinners.” Matthew 9:13
Do you understand this scripture? This is what Jesus said to people who were following him around watching everything he did when he was eating with Matthew and the other tax collectors. In the time of Jesus, tax collectors had a bad reputation. People didn’t like them because they cheated and charged them more taxes than they were supposed to get. Tax collectors were known bad guys, but Jesus was eating with them. The religious people of his day, the teachers of the law (teachers of the Old Testament) were questioning why he was eating with known bad guys. They thought they were much more important than the tax collectors, so why was Jesus eating with the bad guys?
Look back at verse 9 of chapter 9: “As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. ‘Follow me’ he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.” The minute Jesus spoke, Matthew followed him. He didn’t question him like the teachers of the law. He understood that Jesus was someone who cared that he should follow, so he got right up and went with him.
Look at verse 9 of chapter 9: “Then John’s disciples came and asked him, ‘How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?'” Who are the Pharisees? They are VERY religious people! They even dress in a way to try to show how religious they are. They think they know everything there is about God. The are very strict about everything, and yes, they fast. John the Baptist’s disciples fasted too. In the time of Jesus, fasting was a very religious thing to do. They believed that hurting themselves by not eating was very religious. They sacrificed their food to show how much they loved God.
When Jesus was talking to Matthew, he knew that everyone thought Matthew was bad, but he still loved Matthew. He had mercy on Matthew. He wasn’t too good to talk to him. Jesus came to help people. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). If we are honest with ourselves, we are all bad, and Jesus came for us. How could one of us be “more righteous” than someone else? Well, okay, we are not all murderers. However, who has not lied at some time in their life? Who has not yelled at someone at some time in their life? Who had not been selfish? Shall I go on? We have to be honest, we are human beings, and we mess up sometimes. Jesus came for us because we are all bad. He had mercy on us.
He wants us to learn to treat one another the way he was treating Matthew. John’s disciples, the teachers of the law, and the Pharisees were not having mercy on people like Matthew, but Jesus was. Jesus wants us to have mercy the way he had mercy. Read James chapter 2. It begins, “My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism,” and then James goes on to explain what he is talking about. The last verse of 1 Corinthians 13 says, “And now thee three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13 is all about trying to teach us how to treat one another. Remember, “love is patient, love is kind, it does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7). This is how Jesus wants us to learn to treat one another. “This is the message we have heard from the beginning: We should love one another” (1 John 3:13). This is the core of the gospel. This is what Jesus was trying to teach when he talked about mercy.
Sacrifice is all those religious activities and things we give up for God. Religious activities are important. Giving things God is important. After all, we are told to “repent.” Repentance mean we change our way of life. If we lie, we no longer lie. If we steal, we no longer steal. If we sleep around, we no longer sleep around, etc. etc. Galatians 5 tells the difference between what we are before we become Christians and what we are after we become Christians. There is a whole list of things we must no longer do and another list of things we must do. Giving things up for God is good, but it is not as important as treating other people right. Act 2:38 says, “Repent and be baptized” as the response to people realizing they are bad when they want to know how to be saved. Yes, baptism is important. We must be baptized, but is it more important to be baptized or to treat others right? “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” As important as baptism is, it is a religious rite, and treating people right is more important.
Jesus wants us to understand that treating other people right is more important than anything else in the world. When they asked him what the greatest commandment was, he said the greatest commandment was to love God, and the next greatest commandment is like it: to love other people. If we have those two things in line in our lives, we are on our way to understanding what God wants from us. Yes, going to church is important, baptism is important, and repentance is important. Prayer is important and singing is important. Many, many things are important, but treating other people well is more important. “If I give all I possess to the poor, and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3). This is what Jesus was telling us we must understand. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”