Mercy and Sacrifice

Jesus spent so much time out eating that he developed a reputation for being something of a party guy (see Matt 11:29). Obviously, Jesus was neither a glutton nor a drunk—what got him into trouble wasn’t that he was “a glutton and a drunkard” but rather that he was “a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners.’” And that what gets him in trouble in our text. Jesus calls Matthew as a disciple, and Matthew immediately has Jesus over for a meal with all his tax collector cronies.

The job that Matthew and his buddies had was to collect taxes from the merchants who brought goods to sell in the marketplace. These taxes went to Rome (as well as into Matthew’s pockets), and the cost of these taxes was passed onto the consumers (of course). The more taxes Matthew charged, the most items would cost people in the market. So Matthew and his buddies were not just seen as traitors to Rome; they were also the reason why things were so expensive at the local Wal-Mart!

Maybe we can understand why the Pharisees question Jesus’ choice of dinner companions. They were sinners responsible for driving up the cost of living and propping up the hated Roman occupation. Why would Jesus spend time with sinners? In a culture in which holy men maintained their holiness by avoiding the company of sinners, why would Jesus choose this of “sinners?” Jesus explains that he is the doctor and these are the very patients who need him. An old episode of MASH has Frank Burns going ballistic because Hawkeye is about to operate on a North Korean soldier. Burns says, “This man is the enemy!” Hawkeye says, “I’m going to operate for two reasons—this man is dying and I’m a doctor!” Jesus tells the Pharisees “I’m hanging out with these guys because they are sick and I’m the great Physician.”

But that’s not all he tells them. He also says, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices” (9:13, NLT). The Pharisees thought the whole point of their religion was religious ritual, and they were good at that. They were so good that they saw themselves as better than everyone else and more valuable to God. Jesus told them that they needed to learn mercy because that would change how they saw others. Micah long before had said that what the Lord requires is not sacrifices but “No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic 6:8, NET). The way we see other people indicates whether or not we are seeing God clearly.

How good are you are showing mercy? How good are you at seeing God?