"But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Rules and laws are imperative to a civilized society. Just imagine what our roads would look like with no traffic regulations, or a football game played without rules, or a classroom with no consequences for disruptive behaviors. One word comes to mind: CHAOS!
Yet, there are times and circumstances in our lives that can rules and laws into question, and leave us pondering if bending or breaking them might be the better option as opposed to following each to the letter.
Take, for instance, the Eagle Scout with a stellar academic and athletic record, who forgot to remove his pocket-knife from his book bag after a weekend camping trip, or the frantic dad-to-be careening down the interstate to get his laboring wife to the hospital in time. Do these two infractions call for a ten-day, out-of-school suspension or a speeding ticket? In both cases, rules or laws have been broken, but do the incidents cry out for mercy to be shown by the authorities in charge?
In Jesus' day, the Pharisees held the religious play book; they knew Jewish law, inside and out, and were sticklers about every detail. Their knowledge gave them great authority over the people, the very same people now swayed and mesmerized by the words and teachings of Jesus. This does not happy campers make!
At every turn, the Pharisees try to trip the Lord up in something He says or does. Today, Jesus is dining with Matthew, the tax collector, and his friends. By their standards, associating with sinners is a sin in and of itself. That's the rule, and they're sticking to it.
Jesus, however, turns the play book on its head. His directive to them to "go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice'" at once deflates their pomposity and places into questions their true understanding of scripture. It was a verbal slap to their self-righteous faces.
God requires compassion, empathy, and love toward every person. He does not desire a ritual sacrifice, an empty law that excludes others, deeming them unworthy of worshiping Him. Jesus came for the sinners, the lost sheep, and those scorned and demeaned by society. He came to change the rules, to write them on our hearts, so we could act mercifully toward others just as He, Himself, has acted mercifully toward us.
Are you playing by Jesus' rules?
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