Mercy, Not Sacrifice

A sermon by Pastor Michael Pahl on February 10, 2019, called “Mercy, Not Sacrifice.” It is the fifth in a series called “Reading the Bible with Jesus.” The sermon is a reflection on Jesus’ reference to Hosea 6:6 in Matthew 9:9-13 and 12:1-14.

Here is a written excerpt:

James Tissot, Jésus dans la synagogue déroule le livre

We take that bit of homework back to Jesus our Teacher, and he turns to us again: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

So let’s go deeper. Let’s check out the context of Jesus’ teaching, why Jesus said what he said when he said it.

And so we turn to Matthew 9.

There Jesus is, eating with sinners, and the Really Religious (that’s us again) don’t like it. Their concern is about holiness, about maintaining purity. For them this is the prescribed “sacrifice” according to the Law. It’s what the Bible calls for.

But Jesus’ concern is about “mercy,” about showing compassion, especially to those who most need it. This is the greater pursuit. This is God’s greater desire.

Of course, Jesus doesn’t neglect the reality of sin—Jesus calls all sinners to repentance, remember? “Repent, for the kingdom of God is come near”? That’s Jesus’ entire message in a nutshell!

But Jesus turns the whole notion of “sin” on its head. When we push down and push aside the most broken, the most vulnerable, the most marginalized, and especially when we justify this by appealing to “holiness” before God—this is the greater sin! Read Matthew 23—that’s what really got Jesus’ blood boiling!

Purity plus power so easily turns to exclusion and oppression. And to this, God says to us through Jesus, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

This is hard. This is much harder than simply “don’t do fake religion, kids, and throw a little love around, eh?”

This is hard: paying attention to those on the fringes, showing compassion to those on the fringes, welcoming to our common table those on the fringes, especially those our tradition or our community has labeled “sinners.”

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