During our family devotional time this morning we read Matthew 12 (our church is reading the Bible in 9 months). Chapter 12 is a big chapter with lots of different stuff, but two things that really stuck out to me were the first two stories. Both stories show how the Pharisees are more concerned about their laws then they are about people. Jesus is accused of breaking the Sabbath when his disciples were picking grain and eating it because they were hungry. Later the Pharisees try to trick him into breaking the Sabbath again by performing a miracle.
One particular verse stands out from the rest on this particular Bible reading occasion. Jesus said in verse 7 "If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent." What an interesting verse. The Bible talks a lot about sacrifice and most of the time it is in connection with God and is seen as a thing that God desires, but here we find Jesus saying something that almost seems at odds with the positive concept of sacrifice.
The issue is a misconception of sacrifice. Jewish law was very developed by this time. Hundreds, if not more, laws had been added to God's law in order to help the Jew not break any of God's laws. Laws were developed around God's law as sort of a buffer. I am sure the Pharisees saw the obedience of these laws as a form of sacrifice. Unfortunately, it got to the point where these man made laws were just as important as God's laws. To break them was actually seen as sinning against God even though such laws were not truly God's laws.
What ended up happening was the Pharisees had gotten so radical about these laws that they forgot that God was more concerned about man then about laws. Jesus states it this way concerning the Sabbath. "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath." Man is important. Not the law. The laws were put here to help man. Man was not made to keep laws.
I'm not advocating the breaking of laws, but I am saying we need to have a proper perspective. Laws should never come before people. It is this reason Jesus says "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Yes, it is a personal sacrifice if you choose to confine your activities in such away that you buffer yourself from breaking God's law, but mercy trumps sacrifice. We should never place undue expectations upon others, and what I mean by this is if it isn't an expectation of God's then it shouldn't be an expectation of us. People are what is important. As soon as a person gets legalistic about things that are not truly of God they have lost focus of what is truly important.
As a side note, isn't mercy really sacrifice? I used this illustration with my children. We like to play mercy, or I should say, I like to play the game of mercy. It's great fun for me watching my children squirm and wiggle under the light pressure I put on their fingers, but according to the rules of the game, as soon as they say mercy I am supposed to let up. Now, I have a decision to make when they say mercy. I can continue to apply pressure and enjoy the pain I am causing (I know it sounds a little sadistic, but I'm just using this as an illustration). The other choice I have is to sacrifice my pleasure and let off so that they can experience some pleasure, i.e. blood rushing back to their fingertips.
It is a silly illustration but it serves the point I am trying to make. Mercy involves backing off. It involves sacrificing power and/or control that you may have over a person or situation in order to allow them a level of pleasure or reprieve. So in essence, God prefers the sacrifice that involves mercy over other types of sacrifice because mercy clearly shows a deference for people.
All this has led me to the question that I want to end this blog with. What does God really require of us? As I read through scripture over the next 9 months I am going to try and keep that question in mind. I think a lot of us have misconceptions of what God really requires. I don't want to have those misconceptions.