In cycles of sin, we focus on restoration, instead of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world. In religiosity, we distance ourselves from sin and sinners, ignoring our own sin. Instead, be merciful, identifying with and inviting everyone to look up with you…
9 As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him.
10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus quoted this verse from the prophet Hosea (6:6) in which God says this to Israel. Now Jesus is quoting it to religious leaders who were criticizing him for befriending tax collectors and sinners.
This is not new teaching. God has said over and over that offering and sacrifice are not what he desires. It is obedience God wants. It is mercy which God desires. Why do we get this so wrong?
Well, we are bent on sin. We get ourselves into sinful situations and we give into temptations. Then we must make the sin and guilt offering (Mosaic Law) or seek the forgiveness of God through confession and reliance on the atonement of Jesus (New Covenant).
When we are stuck in cycles of sin, our focus becomes getting right for the things in which we are wrong, instead of being the hands and feet of Jesus in the world.
If we are right with and before God, we might fall into a religious righteousness holy huddle far away from the sin and temptation which entangle us and bring us down. It seems that the religious leaders and priests in Jesus’ day had separated themselves up and out of the unwashed community that their sacrifices were rituals on behalf of people with whom they would not relate.
In religiosity, we can distance ourselves from sin so much that we ignore our own identity as sinners, missing that we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
That’s the consequence of self-righteousness: it is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. And if I am not sick, I don’t need the doctor. The self-righteous don’t need God. They are already righteous in their minds.
Jesus’ example is to be firmly in the world and not of it. Be merciful by embracing with love the world of sinners around you. Tax collectors and sinners need mercy and friends who will raise their sights on higher places.
Recognize your need for God. Focus your attention on sharing that need with those around you. Be consumed with being merciful as an important step in obeying God’s commands in your own life. Rather than looking down on them, involve others in your own looking up.