“And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7)
In response to those who accused Jesus of breaking the law by plucking and eating heads of grain on a Sabbath day with his disciples, Jesus said: “If you had known what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matthew 12:7).
Surprisingly, this is not the only time Jesus said this. When Jesus was at the house of Matthew, the Pharisees accused him of descending so low as to be eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners. In response, Jesus said: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13).
When we look closely at the two occasions Jesus quotes this phrase, we would see a lot of similarities. On both occasions, Jesus is caught eating; eating with sinners, or eating on the wrong day of the week. The good news is that on both occasions, Jesus uses food to bring about ultimate good; Matthew is brought to repentance and the disciples receive energy for their mission. One important lesson Jesus teaches us today is that holiness alone is not enough to keep the body alive. If you don’t eat at all, no matter how prayerful you are, you will die.
Secondly, on both occasions, Jesus reveals who God is. We tend to think of God as a strict police officer who is only interested in punishing us once we step out of line but the truth is that God is more interested in our repentance (I desire mercy) than our isolation. God takes no pleasure in the death of the sinner. God would rather have us follow the spirit of the law than the letter. For instance, it is not enough to simply avoid breaking the third commandment, you must know that the essence of this commandment is to love God, so, if on your way to Church, you meet a dying person, helping that person is already an act of loving God and your Sabbath is fulfilled.
Thirdly, on both occasions, Jesus teaches us that our attitude towards sinners should not be that of condemnation but love and mercy. Hate the sin but love the person, this way, you are able to win a soul. Avoid throwing out the baby with the bath water. Also, before judging the ‘sinner,’ before pointing your finger, find out the whole truth. Imagine Jesus being judged for breaking the third commandment because he plucked grains on a farm and was eating on a Sabbath day.
In our first reading today, we saw how God granted fifteen more years to King Hezekiah who was at the point of death and cried for mercy. God does not treat us according to our faults but according to our potential. God keeps us alive despite our sinfulness not because He condones sin but just so that we may have the opportunity to repent. We serve a merciful God – let us extend this mercy to our brothers and sisters; especially those who offend us or are still living in the darkness of sin.
Let us pray: Almighty ever-living God, you desire mercy. May the mercy I practice daily become my gifts to you. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Bible Study: Isaiah 38:1-6,21-22,7-8, Isaiah 38:10-12,16, Matthew 12:1-8).
© Rev. Fr. Evaristus Abu