Saturday

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’” (v. 13)

Matthew 9:2-13 Saturday 3 September 2016

Psalm: Psalm 147


Background

This remark (verse 13) of Jesus is addressed to the Pharisees.They have been complaining that Jesus eats with tax collectors andsinners (verse 11). For the Pharisees, this is a category mistake:anyone who is good does not associate with evil-doers. When Jesushears of their complaint he explains his vocation: to be aphysician to the sick (verse 12). This requires of him both theability to tell the difference between good and evil, and thewillingness to get involved with people, even at the risk of makinghimself vulnerable.

The subject of discerning the difference between good and evilhas already been introduced (verse 4). The Pharisees think Jesusguilty of blasphemy for claiming to forgive sins. However,according to Matthew's Gospel, Jesus' healing of the paralysed man(verses 6-7) demonstrates that Jesus is not evil, but has theauthority of God to do good. So, it is Jesus and not the Phariseeswho can accurately tell the difference between good and evil. ButJesus' vocation involves more than that. His description of himselfas a physician indicates that he must do more than diagnose from adistance. The business of helping people recognise and let go ofwhat is destructive in their lives so that they can leave it behindmeans relationship and commitment.

Typically, Jesus points the Pharisees back to their ownscriptures: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice' is a quotationfrom Hosea 6:6. In the original Hebrew though'mercy' is not 'letting people off' from a distance, rather, it is'steadfast love' (hesed) which is a consistent quality of God'scharacter in dealing with humankind; so here, Jesus reminds thePharisees that as human beings made in God's image they are tobehave with loving kindness towards each other. For us all, thismeans risking ourselves in relationship in acts of practical careand emotional accompaniment, yet astonishingly (verse 8) it mayalso mean our getting involved in the releasing of people fromtheir sins. What amazes the crowd here is not Jesus' authority toforgive and to heal but the realisation that human beings who aretuned into God's power for good can be channels of God'sforgiveness also.


To Ponder

  • Can you recall a time when you have risked your own reputation,feelings or resources to reach out to someone? How did that feel?What did you learn?
  • If someone challenges a destructive behaviour of yours, howdoes the impact differ if it comes from someone who keeps theirdistance, compared with someone who has already demonstrated theircommitment and belief in you?
  • Who has the authority to forgive sins? Have you ever declaredGod's forgiveness to anyone? What was the impact?

 

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