I came across this in my daily reading the other day. It’s from the Old Testament but Matthew in his gospel has Jesus say it, not once, but twice which means it ought to be underlined three times in our Bibles, especially because what Jesus actually says is,
‘You don’t get this… you haven’t understood it… go away and think about it…‘
(The references are Hosea 6:6, Matthew 9:13 and Matthew 12:7)
So I spent some time thinking about it.
Sacrifice is orientated around my effort to make up for my misdemeanours or short-comings. It is all about my effort or me paying the price for myself, doing something costly or extravagant that might put God back on my side.
Did you notice that sacrifice is laden with personal pronouns: my, me, I, mine…
Mercy, however, is all about what I give away: love, acceptance, compassion, understanding, generosity. It’s all about my attitude towards others. In fact mercy isn’t even possible as a concept unless there is an ‘other’: a stranger, an enemy, an outsider, a refugee, a neighbour.
Mercy is totally other orientated. Sacrifice is me-focusssed.
And God desires mercy. He does not demand it. Mercy cannot be demanded, just as love cannot be demanded. It must be given, offered, freely… and always it is at risk of rejection. That is how God loves us: freely and always at risk of rejection, totally and utterly orientated towards our well-being at the expense of his own.
It’s hard act to follow but that’s exactly what he asks us to do.