Mercy not Sacrifice!

Being Commissioned!
June 2, 2023
Be Wise and Innocent!
June 15, 2023

‘Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’.  For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. (Matt. 9:13)

I am struck by the encounter between Jesus and Matthew, a tax collector.   Jesus walked by the tax booth, and saw him; realistically, honestly, not simply or superficially as the despised tax collector, the visible presence of the hated Romans, an apologist for the oppressors, a colluder and profiteer.  Matthew would have been infamous in his community, disrespected, feared, not trusted.  There would have been a lot of name-calling for one such as Matthew in his line of work.  

Have you noticed how, like Matthew, we too are labelled all through our lives, often for things beyond our control, such as our race, the colour of our skin, our gender and sexuality, our shape and height, our age, our abilities and disabilities, our family story, our capacity.  The labels laid on us categorise, judge and sentence us, and enable others to objectify and diminish us, and sometimes kill us.

Jesus saw Matthew in his tax booth, and simply asked Matthew to follow him and in response, Matthew ‘got up and followed him.’ (v.9:9) And, later that day, we hear Jesus sat at dinner with many tax collectors and sinners who came and sat with him and his disciples. 

I’ve been thinking about what might such a dinner look like with Jesus today?  Who would be Jesus be welcoming do you think?  If we imagine ourselves as the Pharisees, who might we question about their right to join Jesus at the dinner table?  This month is Pride month with all the noisy questioning and acceptance this brings. Last month we witnessed to and celebrated National Reconciliation Week with First Nations peoples; and we prayed throughout May for courage to end domestic and family violence through our witness and commitment to victims and survivors, and to bring to an end the overwhelming male violence. Might such communities and individuals be questioned about their presence, like the tax collectors and sinners?

Would we as Pharisees still question the presence of people of other races, asylum seekers and refugees from wars and climate change at Jesus’ table? Would we be checking how they received the invitation and how they had arrived? What about the LGBTQI+ community members, currently under death threats in Uganda and still rejected in this country by some for being married and blessed; or would it be First Nations peoples, vilified and trolled in these troubled times. 

All these groups are harassed and rejected because the status quo continues to be challenged by Jesus and by Jesus’ followers and disciples today.  Its interesting, isn’t it, to ask whose presence at the table would get our religious police questioning our faith, our authority and the company we’re keeping in our community today, just as Jesus was confronted and challenged in his community.  In the story, the Pharisees spoke with the disciples, but as they were still searching for their voices to respond to the questions, Jesus answered the questioners directly. 

We still lose our voices today when pressured and challenged about God’s love and presence in our churches and our lives.   I wonder if Matthew even bothered to go to the synagogue each week, if that was how he was treated and perceived by the authorities. 

Jesus was lovingly and practically reminding his people what the scriptures were all about; peeling back the layers of human interpretation to present once again, God’s love and presence in the world. He was reminding people it wasn’t about rules and privilege, custom and practice.  Jesus’ stretching of people’s understanding and his fresh interpretations about their religion, faith and God was causing hostility and fear to those who did not want change.  This was probably because of their fears about their own safety, their privilege, entitlement and power was under threat, and because they saw and understood God differently. 

Jesus’ response to the questioning by the Pharisees was to remind them, those who are well don’t need a doctor, it’s the sick who need a physician.  Jesus quoted Hosea 6.6:

For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.’ (Hosea 6:6)

The reference to ‘burnt offerings’ offers an historical memory alluded to in the reading from Genesis 12 about Abram listening to God’s call to leave his father’s house. Abram was asked to give up everything he knew, and to move to a new country, a new place, for a new life, encountering change and growing a new relationship with God, freshly created by God out of love.  God challenged all that was understood in those days about God and God’s power.  ‘Abram went as the Lord had told him’.  (Gen.12:4)

A few chapters later in Genesis Ch.22 we are told the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to God.   God stopped the sacrifice and replaced the boy with a sheep.  The way God was seen and understood, how Abraham encountered God was challenged and adjusted again.  Metaphorically, we now see Jesus as the sheep being sacrificed by those who do not want to hear about God’s love or change.   People created by God, are still being burnt and sacrificed by those who see God or their neighbours differently.  

Matthew 9:18-26 offers more detail about what faith and trust now mean for us as disciples, as Jesus continues to demonstrate how much has changed, what God’s love means to those who weren’t normally at the table.  These were a young girl who had died; and a woman who had been bleeding, haemorrhaging for 12 years.  Both were unable to participate in society, both were restored to wholeness, to life and to God in Jesus’ healing.  Shalom had come to pass for these two people, fully restored in God.

Jesus heals Matthew too, with his inclusion, his pleasure in Matthew’s company, with his restoration to community and Matthew’s new life which emerges from his discipleship.  I expect many of Matthew’s friends would also have wondered about this encounter and would have followed Jesus too.    

In Jesus’ calling to us and to everyone, he desires everyone to come to the table and belong to God’s family.  Christ has come to attend to the ‘sick’.   Ironically, it is our own sinfulness, our own separation from God, our sickness, not theirs, that continues to be the virus.  We remember Jesus died on the cross and he knows what it is to be in pain.  It is Jesus who is risen who has the power to heal and make us whole again in God, to offer mercy and not ask for sacrifices.

The Lord be with you.

Bibliography:

Jarvis, C.E., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds].  2013.  Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol. 2 Chapters 14-28.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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