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3rd after Pent.(A)

Matthew 9:13
“ I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.”

The Book of Hosea presents the picture of a wooing and pursuing God, but for a people whose love for Him was exasperating: “What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.”

Throughout the Book God laments their waywardness and threatens severe disciplining. But the capping statement from Hosea and quoted by Jesus in the Matthew 9:13 text assures us of God’s desire and intention to extend mercy to all people. Still, at the same time, it’s a burning indictment against people’s lack of showing mercy and their insincere spirituality. “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice" is also God’s Word for us in this message.

In Christ’s Sermon on the Mount are His words: “Not everyone who says to Me ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in Heaven.” Jesus specifically meant people who give a certain appearance of godliness and piety, claiming to walk with God and do righteous things, but whom He identified as “evil doers”. Of such people Jesus also said: “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me; in vain do they worship Me...’”

The Ceremonial Laws in the Books of Moses spell out quite detailed requirements for a host of Divinely commanded offerings and sacrifices from the Jewish people; ‘sin’ and ‘thank’ and ‘burnt’ offerings, ‘purification’ and 'grain' and ‘animal part’ rituals, with specific ingredients and recipes and steps to follow for all those ceremonies. The Pharisees of Christ’s day were expert in such rites! But Jesus had to confront them with the truth: “...You tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the Law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done without neglecting the others.”

Their sacrifices were self-serving rather than God-honoring. To really honor God was loathsome to them. They didn’t want to get their hands dirty by helping cripples and lepers. They couldn’t risk tarnishing their reputations by taking or teaching God’s Word to the likes of Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners. In short, they had no mercy or compassion for the needy and spiritually lost, which actually pointed up how lost they were themselves!

Jonah was rather like that. At first he refused to give God’s warning to the people of Nineveh to repent. After God turned him around and he finally followed God’s directive, the whole city did repent and was saved from impending destruction! But do you know what Jonah did then? He went off muttering and sulking that God did not destroy the city, because he felt that the people there deserved annihilation. Judgment over others and revenge characterized his heart, not mercy.

When we toy with the notion that we’re better than others, or when we want to see them justly suffer for their wrongs and turn a blind eye to our own sin, we assume the place of God and set up our own standard of what’s right. Desires like that in our hearts expose how desperately wicked we are, too. We too are sinners and just as low as any to whom we would avoid showing mercy and compassion. Snobbish elitism is sin! Prideful prejudice is sin! Revenge is sin! Stubborn refusal to forgive is sin! Failure to show mercy, and particularly towards those who may be sincerely penitent, is sin!

Jonah was right, though. The Ninevites did NOT deserve God’s warning and chance to repent. But neither did Jonah himself deserve any mercy! The Pharisees, too, were right. Tax collectors and harlots were the slime of society and deserved no favors from anyone. But neither were the Pharisees so righteous as to oblige Jesus to favor them. Scripture is right when it says: “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.” You and I deserve no favors or mercy from God, but, as we say in our confession, we ‘justly deserve His punishment now and forever’.

Yet God says: “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, so turn and live!” His own desire to show mercy is reported to us in countless ways throughout the Bible. Jonah didn’t, but God wanted the 120,000 residents of Nineveh to escape judgment and He saved them. The Pharisees didn’t, but Jesus reached out to Matthew, calling him to follow, and befriended and ate with the tax-collectors and sinners. He extended mercy to the woman caught in adultery, the woman at the well, a Roman Centurion, Peter after his denials, and literally thousands of others – none of whom was deserving.

The very life of the Prophet Hosea told the story of God’s heart. God commanded Hosea to take a harlot for his wife. When he did, she ran away for a string of adulterous affairs. God said that she gave a perfect example of His people’s relationship with Himself. Then stunningly, when Hosea’s wife finally ended up as merchandise in a slave market, God directed Hosea to buy her back!

Just as He led Hosea, God Himself was willing to go to ANY length to pay and call US back to Himself – and so He gave the single most precious thing He could: the life of His own Son Jesus Christ! Jesus was given over to be condemned to death and hell on Calvary’s Cross so that you and I might receive MERCY. He was raised by God’s Power, having paid the price for our sin and rebellion, so that beyond mercy we might also be given Eternal Life! Holy Scripture assures us: “...Jesus our Lord ... was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

The Lord’s middle Name must be “Mercy”! To call Matthew to follow, and to befriend the tax-collectors and sinners, or to show mercy to ANYone meant Jesus was sealing His fate! His mercy on us required and committed Him to go to the Cross, but because of His mercy He went! How could anyone ever say “No” to such an awesome salvation?

If we really take His mercy to heart, though, saying “Yes” to Christ’s amazing grace, we simply have to recognize that, like Him, we must be givers of mercy! Otherwise our Christianity is a sham. Faith without works is dead! “Go and do likewise,” those familiar words with which Jesus summed things up about the Parable of the Good Samaritan, should be understood by us to mean: YOU show mercy because you’ve freely been given it!

Actually, though, in some circumstances that may require a measure of what we call “tough love." St. Paul had to counsel the Corinthians concerning their ignoring the immorality of a certain member: “Drive out the wicked person from among you.” The people then did it so zealously that the man genuinely repented, and then Paul was obliged to write again and chastise them to forgive and welcome the man back. They had real problems there concerning snobbery and mercy!

“Mercy” doesn’t mean leaving God’s stray sheep or the lost alone to suffer the consequence of wandering without grace. Sometimes it may mean a jarring call to repent - but always then followed with the invitation to believe the Gospel. That’s how Jesus Himself worked as He moved from town to town. The Bible says He preached: “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” And He commissioned His followers to do the same. Obviously that doesn’t mean becoming a drug abuser in order to attempt saving other drug abusers, but neither does it mean shunning society’s “low lifes” or those who are different from us. God’s own compassion for all people should be our guiding light.

The message is simple: Repent and believe the Gospel! You and I are accountable to God for dispensing such mercy to our neighbors. It’s our privilege and a natural result of our own great debts being forgiven through His own Blood which Jesus shed. MERCY WANTED! God wants the undeserving to have it. He wants YOU to have it. He likewise wants YOU to GIVE it!


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