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Love into practice

January 27, 2013

Sunday SeptuagesimaeMisericordia

“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.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.  When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Perhaps this phrase is known to you. These words were spoken by Jesus, who was quoting the Old Testament, according to the book of the prophet Hosea: “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6) Jesus quotes the word of God in the Old Testament, sharing and applying it to the case that was before their eyes: strictness, fear, insecurity and meanness that led to the incapacity to love and have compassion for others. Ultimately, they lacked the ability to fully love.

We should be aware that the religious Pharisees had wiping Jesus out as their only intention. They were blind to the true word of God. And if they noticed the presence of the Spirit of God, they saddened Him a lot by closing their hearts and proudly blinding themselves in the face of the evidence of God they had in the person of Jesus. What was the wrong with the Pharisees that rejected Jesus? It was the same problem that exists today with those who reject Jesus: the inability to accept by faith, a clear and simple message of love and mercy that comes directly from God Himself. We do not know why these people reject the gospel, but we do know that there is an evil presence that is constantly sneaking around so that many do not hear the message of God.

These Pharisees were very religious. They called themselves good believers and followers of the law of God. But in truth it was not so. Their practice lacked faith; it was simply the enforcement of laws and traditions that they believed to be God’s law. They believed that by belonging to an institution, by fulfilling the rites and traditions of the institution, by reading the word of God and for having memorized passages and knowing them by heart they could rightly call themselves ‘sons of God.’

However, God Himself comes to clear things up. Jesus, as the Son of God, is there and he says what it truly means to be a believer: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Let us first consider what sacrifice means. When Jesus spoke about sacrifice, he was referring to deeds that were done in the temple to fulfill the Law of Moses. These offerings were made in the temple by killing animals on the altar for God’s pleasure and to ask for forgiveness. This way of relating to God, which is found in the Old Testament, is quite primitive. Speaking on this topic, Jesus tells us that the most important thing for us to do if we wish to please God is not the fulfillment of certain rules, rituals or the customs of men, but, that it is most important for us to show mercy. Jesus tells us that now, as it was before, if we really want to please God and obtain his favor that we have to exercise mercy in all its ways.

And now, let’s see what mercy means. Mercy is a word that means compassion, love:

“A mother once approached Napoleon seeking a pardon for her son. The emperor replied that the young man had committed a certain offence twice and that justice demanded death.

“But I don’t ask for justice,” the mother explained. “I plead for mercy.”

“But your son does not deserve mercy.” Napoleon replied.

“Sir,” the woman cried, “It would not be mercy if he deserved it, and mercy is all I ask for.”

“Well, then,” the emperor said, “I will have mercy.” And he spared the woman’s son.

Those Pharisees were likely not prepared for the answer Jesus gave them. With it, Jesus did not justify the sinner’s actions. But the message here is clear, both for them and also for us today: The most important thing to God, if you want to be a true believer and to please Him, is to show others love and compassion, to have an open heart and to be warm, kind, considerate, flexible and friendly to others. If we do so, the Spirit of God will be able to act through our witness and make changes in those who are not really living a life according to what God wants. It is the quickest way to get others closer to God. It is the quickest because it allows the spirit of God to act freely. If, however, we cannot be like that, it is because there is something in us that is keeping us from expressing the love that God has for us. With this, we sadden the Spirit of God. The reason may be fear, lack of faith or lack of communication with God. If that happens, we urgently need to take the medicines that God gives us and they are: prayer, the spiritual food of reading the Bible and fellowship with God through Holy Communion in a community of followers.

Jesus did not approve of the wrong lifestyle of those who were called ‘sinners’ by the Pharisees. It is necessary to be clear. Jesus was not talking about free love in the form of cheap grace. Jesus was simply highlighting that these people were lacking in their practice of love. Jesus was calling for mercy. And that is what we need to practice firstly if we really want to be Christians. Were those people sinful? In most cases, probably yes. Jesus clarified the situation well: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” As well as today we see many who live in “sickness” or sin, that is, are disobeying the word of God, and in so doing are living a life without justification before God. But it is not up to us to judge them. The word of God is clearly judging them. God is the judge and at the end of time he will know and make a fair judgment before us all. But here, Jesus emphasizes that our task is firstly to show mercy, to show love and in so doing it does not mean that we validate their wrong behavior.

Both in the past, as in our time, when the church put the accent on the works, precepts, laws, regulations, rituals, liturgies and uses of custom within the church, and not in the practice of mercy and love for one another, there is a danger of losing sight of the real purpose of the church which is to be a place where the word of God is preached and lived out by each of its members. It is only with the practice of mercy and love that we can make way for the Spirit of God in our lives and work with his miraculous power in our church. And that also applies for all areas where a Christian may go, it also applies for our homes..

A reason why the Holy Spirit is grieved, is that he is gentle like a dove. Doves are very sensitive birds and they will fly away at the slightest noise if they are perched in a tree. I heard the story of a couple who had many pigeons roosting in the eaves of their apartment building and these would often sit on their window ledge. Much to their surprise, a dove came one day and rested where the pigeons usually sat. The couple got into an argument, which was not that unusual for them, but they noticed that the dove flew away immediately when their voice tones became bitter and harsh. The pigeons never flew away, but the dove did. God used this as a lesson to help them to understand how their arguing was grieving the Holy Spirit and why they often did not sense his presence in their home. The Holy Spirit, like the dove, will only dwell in a peaceful loving atmosphere, and we can also add in merciful and compassionate churches and homes.

It’s a good way to obey God. We can do so when we know that what God wants most is mercy and love and not the closure of the church in matters of customs. So when we know what is most important for God and we put it into practice, God truly blesses us through His Holy Spirit. For me, this text is a good practical suggestion; it tells us how to work in our church if we really want to see and feel God’s miracles working here. May God give us the wisdom and courage to first put his love, compassion and mercy in practice among us. For example, to think of others who may be in need of God and that we have a church to offer. With love, we could share our church with others who do not speak our language. This can also be a way to practice love and show God’s mercy. When we give up on what is more comfortable for us, we can reach others with the gospel.

“Follow me!”  Jesus said to Matthew. To the Pharisees, Jesus said: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” May we understand that above all things, following God happens when we are compassionate to one another. This allows the impossible to be modified in us by the Holy Spirit. May God give us the wisdom and courage to put His love, compassion and mercy into practice among us.

The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Amen.

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