Like a single song lyric stuck on loop in my mind, I wake with a verse. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
It’s Sunday. Upon arrival at church we’re met with a request to fill in and teach the children’s Sunday school class. With no lesson and nothing prepared, I muse at God’s provision. Well, I’ve got a verse. Curiously, we open to Matthew 9:13.
“Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, and not sacrifice. For I came not to call the righteous, but the sinners.”
“What does it mean?” I think to myself.
I listen as the mechanic reads the context to the kids. It is the calling of Matthew – a man who was hated for his profession. Matthew – a tax collector who doubtless made a habit of lying, cheating, and stealing from the have-nots and the hard-working. Jesus – the God of all creation called him away from a life of deceitful money-loving idolatry and into his very own small group of close disciples.
Matthew listened. He followed. He quit his unpopular job. He threw a great feast for all his unpopular, crooked, money-loving friends and had Jesus be the keynote speaker. Pretty impressive for a new convert, I’d say.
Still, there were some who were less than impressed. There were some who were angry that a man who claimed to be of God would entertain such a motley crew. They were none other than the most religious men of the day – the Pharisees.
It was to these men that Jesus spoke the words, “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.”
The one requirement for following Christ is being a sinner. Of course we all are, but Jesus’ point here is that only some of us know it. It is the those who find their identity and most closely associate themselves with the church that have the highest risk of self-righteous fellow sinner snubbing. It is those who should be known as “Churchians” rather than Christians. It is they who seem to have a secret club, clique, and code which wholly excludes anyone who is not so shiny on the outside. The problem is that these ones are not shiny on the inside. They are jealous and full of animosity towards others unlike themselves. They have no regard for what – or who – Jesus wants. They offer “sacrifice” to God for show and the praise of men but they treat others with ignorance, exclusion, contempt, and biased injustice.
Matthew Henry says, “They are very strict in avoiding sinners, but not in avoiding sin; none greater zealots for the form of godliness, nor greater enemies to the power of it.”
If we are honest, we have to admit that there are times in all of our lives that we encounter people with whom we would rather not engage. As Christians, though, we really aren’t at liberty to pick and choose. When Christ puts a soul in front of us, we have a great responsibility to serve them in whatever way he calls us to. Don’t have that burden? Repent.
Jesus has news for the “No sinners allowed people hater club.” He exposes them by pointing to the fact that not associating with sinners – whatever brand you most dislike – is hardly a sacrifice. Of all the grandiose, pompous, showy sacrifices they made, this was yet another piece of detestable garbage to God.
Jesus proves that he is in the business of mercy. Mercy responds when called to a feast full of lost sinners – even if there’s a feast full of self-righteous teachers going on at the same time. Mercy spends its time saving those who do not deserve to be associated with. Mercy includes the worst of sinners because it understands that excluding people from its sacred circle is no sacrifice. No. That is utter selfishness, self-protection, and pride. Mercy, by definition, is an offering one gives that is undeserved – the opposite of what is deserved, even. That is why it is called mercy.
The name “Matthew” means “the gift of God.” We are the gift of God to others – not our shiny, showy, so-called sacrifices. When God calls us, his call is all enveloping. It is all of life. If you find yourself immersed in a sea of Churchians content to mingle among themselves, excuse yourself. Find some sick. Leave the pretend healthy people and begin offering the Great Physician to those who know their need. Invite them into the parts of your life that are outside of the proper protocol of a weekly handshake, hello, and see you next week (but hopefully not until.) If God has been merciful to you, be merciful to others who don’t deserve it any more than you did.
I don’t know about you, but I would much rather be the one unwelcome than the one unwell. Christ expects us to be merciful to sinners because he is merciful to we who are sinners. When we are not, it proves than we, neither, have received mercy.
“Christ came not with an expectation of succeeding among the righteous, those who conceit themselves so, and therefore will sooner be sick of their Savior, than sick of their sins, but among the convinced humble sinners; to them Christ will come, for to them he will be welcome.” ~Matthew Henry