And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:7 ESV)
There is no old wineskin that the new wine of the Gospel does not threaten. It bubbles in the boardroom of business, the bedroom of common life, and the back-room of politics. Jesus had something to say about all of it. But the running conflict of his earthly ministry was with religious authority. The Pharisees’ dogged determination to bring Jesus to heel followed him all the way to the cross. Abused religious authority does the same thing today.
Matthew 12:7 was the second instance of Jesus’ invocation of Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” The first time was at Matthew’s house and authority was offended by the presence of those styled ‘sinners.’ Jesus told them to go and learn what Hosea 6:6 means.
But they did not go and learn. Perhaps it was the same men from Matthew’s house who followed Jesus and company through the grain fields that Sabbath. Or perhaps they were fresh troops from Jerusalem. Either way, they represented the same kingdom, a kingdom that was increasingly threatened by a power they could not contain. And now his disciples were working on the Sabbath, plucking the heads of grain. Keeping up with Jesus had given them the munchies. It will do the same for you if you try to keep up with him. Apparently, he approves of munchies on the Sabbath if the hunger is created by chasing after God.
Boardroom, bedroom, back-room, or vestibule, the issue is always control. And no one feels more out of control than those who think they have God in a box, only to find that he is loose in the world and working all manner of wonders while they get no credit. It is in fact the principle cause of the death of a local church. The fishers of men morph into the guardians of the gate. The lights of the world pull the bushel basket of control down over their own heads.
But Jesus is who he is all the time. Mercy means relief. He wants his people to bring relief because he has relieved his people. Mercy was upright and walking through a grain field that day and his bumbling disciples were trying hard to keep up with him. He was merciful to call them. He was merciful to forgive them. What surprise is it, then, that he was merciful to feed them?
O broken sinner, do not lose heart! To be sure, there is enough religion in the world to kill you. But the Savior of the world has not changed. Never a sinner has come to him in honest confession who went away empty. Relief! Sweet relief!
O what a Savior he is!