Tuesday, September 04, 2007

I Desire Compassion not Sacrifice

Jesus said this in the Gospel of Matthew two times (9:13; 12:7). What does this mean?

In Matthew 12:1-8, the Pharisees accuse Jesus and his disciples of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus’ response indicates that the Pharisees were obsessed with keeping legalistic requirements, but neglected the heart of the Torah. They turned the Torah into externals, rather than focusing on the heart of the Torah which was intensely internal. Jesus says to them, “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless” (12:7). They were focused on sacrifice, but not compassion. On top of tithing mint, dill, and cumin and neglecting to show mercy, the Pharisees “tie up heavy burdens that are hard to bear” (23:4), and “do their deeds to be seen by others” (23:5). The Pharisees were focused on external legalistic requirements. Outwardly they appeared to be righteous, but internally Jesus said “they are full of greed and self-indulgence” (23:25), “are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (23:27).

The Pharisees were zealous for the Law, but they were committing the same sin as King Saul. Although Saul was doing what was unlawful, he claimed that he was keeping his sacrifices (1 Sam. 15:21). But the Prophet Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” (1 Sam. 15:22). David wrote in Psalm 40, “Sacrifice and offering you have not desired…burnt offering and sin offering you have not required….I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart” (v. 6, 8). One scribe described in the Gospel of Mark understood this. In response to Jesus he said, “To love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices” (Mark 12:33-34). God desires love, mercy, and compassion, not simply outward observances without our hearts.

What about compassion/mercy? On the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (5:7). Since the Pharisees were not merciful, they received no mercy. During Jesus’ ministry he exemplified mercy. He had mercy on blind men (9:27; 20:30, 31), the woman whose daughter was oppressed by a demon (15:22), and the epileptic (17:15). He healed a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (12:13). After the Pharisees accused him of breaking the Sabbath Jesus said, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (12:11-12). Therefore, when Jesus instructs (illocutionary force), “I desire compassion, and not sacrifice,” his intended effect (perlocutionary force) is to teach, “I desire you to love God with all your heart, to love your neighbor as yourself, be merciful to the outcast, and not be obsessed with keeping legalistic requirements.” During his seven woes upon the Pharisees, Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”