Mercy vs Sacrifice

When Jesus sat to eat a meal with "the worst" of his day - sinners and tax collectors - the religious were upset. They wondered how Jesus could spend time with, and befriend such low-lifes. I get the feeling they rather expected Jesus to stand outside the party holding a picket sign or something. So there Jesus is confounding the religious, and as they are wondering what his problem is, he addresses their problem. Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.' For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt. 9:12-13)

What I hear a lot about is that Jesus came to save sinners, that's why he was spending time with the lost. But that is only half of what he said. He also addressed the attitude of the pharisees. There they sat, condemning the wicked. Knowing, or presuming to know, another's spiritual condition, their response was one of repulsion and exclusion. But Jesus said, "Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'" The pharisees were examples of outward morality, but inside their hearts did not reflect the heart of God, since he is not only a God of wrath and justice, but also a God of mercy and forgiveness (Ex. 34:6, 7; Rom 3:21-26). Jesus said external obedience to God's law amounts to little if not accompanied by a heart of mercy. John Gill explained it this way,

God takes more delight and pleasure, either in showing mercy himself topoor miserable sinners; or in acts of mercy, compassion, and beneficence done by men, to fallen creatures in distress, whether for the good of their bodies, or more especially for the welfare of their souls, than he does even in sacrifices, and in any of the rituals of the ceremonial law, though of his own appointing.
John Gill, Gill's Commentary

This has tremendous implications for how we as Christians, and as churches, interact with the world around us. It does not dismiss speaking the truth, or preaching law-Gospel. It does mean that attitudes and actions for many of us need to change. Some will need to change their value system, because in God's economy being right is not more valuable than being good. Holding the right doctrine is not worth more than holding "miserable sinners" in love. Knowing and agreeing with God's standard does not trump living out God's character of compassion. He desires mercy, not sacrifice. So pick a sinner, any sinner. One different from you. The worst kind you can imagine. The kind that offends/embarrasses you in their actions. How do you feel toward them? Would you have them over for a meal with your family? Would you invite them over to a party? To church? Or is having the right opinion about the moral issue more important than having the heart Jesus calls us to have? It certainly is easier.

I am not suggesting that doctrine or speaking the truth about moral issues are of little value. We need to speak out, speak up, vote wisely, and even on occasion show up on CNN to discuss/debate. But we are weaker is the more important area of mercy. Mercy toward the lost does not soften the law or the Gospel, it softens the sinner! It shows them that God will receive all with open arms if they will turn to him. Perhaps we need to turn first.