Heart of Mercy Print
Theology
Written by Ben Merkle   
Friday, 11 November 2011 08:21

In Hosea 6, God rebukes Israel, saying, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” Jesus quotes this passage twice in Matthew.

First, in Matthew 9 when the Pharisees are upset about the fact that Jesus has sat down at the same table as tax collectors and sinners to eat with them, Jesus tells them “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.” And then again in Matthew 12, the Pharisees became upset at Jesus’ disciples because they had plucked heads of grain and eaten them as they walked on the Sabbath, thus breaking the Pharisees’ understanding of Sabbath keeping. Jesus responded by quoting Hosea 6. “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

There are a couple of things that we should notice here. First, food is mercy. If all of this world speaks to us about God and his nature, if all of creation declares the character of God, and it does, then the purpose of food is to testify to us of God’s free mercy. Here you go, he says to us, eat up. Let me nourish you. Let me fill that cavernous emptiness inside of you. Let me serve you something hot to warm you up and make you feel better. Food is mercy.

Second, mercy terrifies the pharisaical mind. When grace is served up, free of charge, the pharisaical mind gets nervous and rushes in to tidy things up, to make some basic rules to reign the thing in, lest that mercy get out of control. Since food is God’s mercy it should be no surprise to us that food and eating inspire a disproportionate amount of pharisaism in our flesh. It was at the dinner table that the Pharisees got uppity about the fact that Jesus was surrounding himself with tax collectors and sinners. And it was on the subject of how the disciples ate that the Pharisees accused Jesus’ disciples of having broken the Sabbath. But both times Jesus corrected them telling them that God delighted in mercy over sacrifice.
God prefers his people to be enjoying his nourishment with gratitude rather than heaping up manmade rules and pharisaical scruples. This is true with food in general and this is particularly true at this table, the Lord’s Supper. This table is at the center of all of our eating. It makes sense that of all the rituals God could have chosen for us to celebrate Jesus’ death, God chose a meal.

Here is the heart of mercy, the gift of the Son. And here we celebrate it by eating. However, if all the manmade scruples about what can and can’t be done at the Lord’s Supper, which Christians have imagined up over the past two millennia, were to be published, the world itself could not support the pile of books produced. Here, at the heart of mercy, we are prone to become the most pharisaical. But you need to know one thing to come to this table. God desires mercy and not sacrifice. God wants you to know him more than the burnt offering. So come to this table. God wants to fill you up.




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