Tuesday, March 9

Religious…and critical.

Scripture: Numbers 17-18, Matthew 9

Matthew 9:12–13  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.”

Observation

Jesus and His disciples shared dinner with newly-called Matthew and his friends, all disreputable, irreligious tax collectors and sinners.  The Pharisees criticized Jesus for befriending such riffraff.  This is Jesus’ reply.

Jesus told them to “go and learn what this means” and quotes Hosea 6:6.  “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”  Later, in Matthew 12:7, after the Pharisees criticized His disciples for eating grain on the Sabbath, Jesus repeats this idea: “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

What was it the Pharisees didn’t understand and needed to learn?  

In the Mosaic Law, God commanded sacrifice, but often it had become nothing more than empty ceremony.  The prophets often addressed this problem (see Isaiah 1:11–17; Amos 5:21–24; Micah 6:6–8).  What God wanted was not empty ceremony, but relationship; as Hosea said, God wanted mercy (Hebrew chesed, meaning covenant love or faithfulness) and acknowledgement of God (to know God).  God wanted a relationship; He wanted them to know Him and love Him.  

Jesus is reminding them of that and saying that if they knew and loved God, they wouldn’t criticize Jesus for loving lost people or self-care on the Sabbath.  They had grown religious…and critical.

Application

Two things:

First, whenever we get critical, particularly for religious reasons, we should stop and check our hearts.  It’s so easy to become Pharisaical, and lose sight of love, mercy and the knowledge of God.  Are you critical of others?  Check your heart—and your relationship with God.  Know and love Him and you’ll be kinder to others.

Second, beware of becoming religious.  It’s so easy for a relationship with God to devolve into a set of rituals, ceremonies and rules.  We lose touch with God Himself, and are reduced to practicing a handful of externals while our hearts get hard.  Stay close to Jesus.  Keep it personal.  God wants a relationship, not external religiosity.

Prayer: Lord, remind me whenever I’m critical to check my heart.  Help me to stay close to You, personal and real, and not become religious.