GOD desires MERCY and not SACRIFICE: "Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, 'Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?' When Jesus heard that, He said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.’" (Matt. 9:10-13)
The problem with the Pharisees living during the time of Jesus was that although they followed the laws of Moses and the rituals religiously, their hearts were hard and cold towards the real needs of the underprivileged people. When they expressed dismay to Jesus for fellowshipping with the downtrodden scum of their society, Jesus (quoting from Hosea 6:6) challenged them to learn the meaning of Jehovah’s words, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice”. God had already judged sacrifices without mercy as worthless!
Although God had instituted the sacrificial system from the earliest of times, He did not want the outward sacrifice and rituals to become a substitute for inward righteousness. God was not pleased with empty rituals that the Pharisees were observing. They obeyed the letter of the law but lacked compassion and mercy towards the less fortunate people, and they associated only with self-righteous people like themselves.
Jesus Christ perfectly fulfilled God’s desire for mercy (and sacrifice) when He gave His own life for redeeming all sinners and fulfilled God’s justice as well. The Scripture tell us, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). So, Jesus came to call all sinners to repentance, but in reality He could only work in those people who acknowledged their own sins and repented before God. Jesus could not perform any acts of mercy and grace towards those who were proud, self-righteous, and unrepentant—like the Pharisees. The Pharisees were more concerned about outward religious forms than about inward compassion. Jesus could not help those who thought that they were righteous and needed no help!
As we read the stories of the public ministry of Jesus, it is clear that He did not minister only to crowds (8:1; 9:36), but He had time for individuals as well. He had compassion on people shunned by the society, and He was particularly concerned with needy individuals. In calling the tax-collector Matthew to be his disciple (Matt. 9:9), Jesus demonstrated in real life that salvation depended on the mercy of God and not on the merits or sacrifices of people. In the similar fashion, we (as His followers) should be equally eager to present the gospel of Christ to everyone, rich or poor, wise or foolish, mighty or weak, irrespective of race, color or stature.
Today, God wants to meet each of us at our point of need, offering forgiveness, healing, and hope through eternal life. God freely gives us what we don’t deserve. As we realize God’s grace in our lives, we should extend the same grace to needy people around us. By extending out this grace in reaching out to people in need, we can be the extension of our Lord Jesus in our world and guide them to His healing touch as well. Remember, God desires mercy and not sacrifice!