I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice | Matthew 9:13
Welcome to Real Life. The Pharisees believed they were serving God by zealously keeping the law, down to the last detail. Yet in doing so they trespassed the spirit of the law. They made sacrifices, but lacked mercy.
Following Christ involves sacrifice. Some are huge: a missionary leaves everything to proclaim the Gospel in a foreign land. Some are small: waking early to pray, giving to those in need, or assisting in a ministry. Do I feel the sacrifice? When I write that check, am I focused on the money I will no longer have or the need I am able to help meet?
In 2006, my mom’s leg was amputated due to poor circulation. My dad’s dementia was becoming apparent. They were living in Florida. We invited them to return to Ohio for a three month period of rehabilitation in our home. It turned into a year, with additional caregiving that followed. This occurred while I was in the final phases of homeschooling my sons. After years of putting my own desires on hold to home educate, I was anticipating the freedom I’d have after my sons graduated. Suddenly, that freedom evaporated. I had two new charges whose needs would only grow with time. I had to withdraw from relationships, ministries, and social engagements that I enjoyed in order to serve my parents. It was hard. I felt the sacrifice. And at times I resented it. Though I loved my parents and wanted to honor them by caring for them, I focused on my sacrifice.
On a weary day in the midst of that first year of caregiving, I read Jesus’ words to the Pharisees:
Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”
Mercy. My perspective needed to change. Rather than mourning my losses, I had to focus on my parents. They had lost their home, their strength, their independence. How would I feel in their position? Compassion took root. If I needed help (and we all do at some point) would I want to be served from a heart of mercy or sacrifice?
What about my heavenly Father? How does he feel when my focus in serving him is my sacrifice (rather than his)? In Hebrew, the word translated mercy in this verse is “hesed.” It’s difficult to accurately translate into English. It’s been described as: unfailing love, faithful love, kindness, mercy, loyalty, devotion, and loving-kindness. God's not impressed by my sacrifices. It is the attitude of my heart that he values above any sacrifice I may make.
I see "hesed" in this scene from A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is with the Ghost of Christmas Past. They are observing a long-ago holiday party hosted by his former employer, Mr. Fezziwig. Back then, Scrooge was a poor, lowly apprentice.
“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”
“Small!” echoed Scrooge.
“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves praise?”
“It isn't that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up. What then? The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”What happiness can I give this Christmas? You and I hold great power for good in our world. Who is in my charge today: a spouse, children, parents, employees, friends, students, neighbors, patients? Whose day can be brightened with something as small as a smile or a word of praise?
Lord Jesus, teach me to live with a heart of mercy, not sacrifice.
 Matthew 9:13
 Information on “hesed” taken from Mary Schaeffer’s Ladies Latte message and notes on December 10, 2012.
 Portions of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Stave Two: The First of the Three Spirits.
Image of Fezziwig Christmas party: http://charlesdickenspage.com/images/A_Christmas_Carol_fezziwig.jpg