Mercy, Not Sacrifice


In today’s gospel from Matthew, Jesus is chastised by the Pharisees for not preventing his disciples from picking and eating grain on the sabbath, a practice which was unlawful. Jesus deftly answers by turning their legalistic judgments against them.

He said to the them, “Have you not read what David did
when he and his companions were hungry,
how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering,
which neither he nor his companions
but only the priests could lawfully eat?
Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath
the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath
and are innocent?
I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

This saying, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” comes originally from the Book of the Prophet Hosea.  When Jesus used that saying, the Pharisees, who certainly recognized the words, must have been cut to the quick.

Are we?  Can we get past our “what’s in it for me” mentality?  Do we know how to give and forgive? Do we understand that mercy is the fundamental obligation we have in our relations with each other?  Do we also know that mercy is to be given without any expectation of anything in return?

Can we do it?  Yes, but it is only when we open our hearts that we will know the meaning of Jesus’ words.  We have to step away from our natural tendency to want others to show us the gratitude we think that we deserve.

Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord.

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