For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise – Psalm 51:16-17

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:10-13

I remember one winter where the Lord put it on my heart to shovel the neighbor’s driveways after they had gone to work. It was a heavy work-load but after a couple of hours I had successfully shoveled four driveways. I noticed that the very next snowfall we had one of the neighbors was actively shoveling our driveway. Since he had never come over to shovel our driveway before I concluded (right or wrong) that the only reason he did this was to not feel indebted to me when I shoveled his.

The most powerful expression of gratitude is a reciprocated gift. Showing appreciation towards the generosity of others is respectful. Responding to the liberality of others demonstrates a level of gratitude that is hard to deny. The gift evokes a euphoric delight in the recipient that desires to respond to those who have taken the time to intentionally encourage them. On one level it communicates a level of value on the receiver of the kindness simply because the giver took time to consider what demonstrates a level of concern and value on the one a gift is bestowed.  But reciprocation can also send a message of guilt rather than gratitude. Many who receive gifts hate the feeling of being indebted to anyone for anything. Their response to give an equally valuable gift is often driven out of a insecure sense of inadequacy. They have a hard time allowing others to do something for them out of a misplaced sense of being self-sufficient, not ever being in a position of needing the charity of others. The generosity of others is actually a slap in the face because the recipient is perceived as having need and thus not being able to provide for himself.

The Psalmist indicates there are some sacrifices or gifts that are not what God really wanted. God told Israel to offer animal sacrifices but these were a physical reminder of the sacrifices that God greatly desired, the surrender of the heart. Certainly when we get to the New Testament we discover these sacrifices represent what Christ did for us. The response God wants was their lives. God accepts the sacrifice of a humble spirit and contrite heart, not as a way of gaining his favor but as an expression of His people’s relationship with Him. The religious and ceremonial sacrifices were important to help God’s people always be reminded of the seriousness of sin and how God provided a substitute for them. God was unapproachable without the sacrifice, but they were never an end in and of themselves. Ultimately, God cares about people and He wanted relationship with his people.

Jesus said a very similar thing when talking about the lost. Jesus was criticized for hanging out with sinners and tax gatherers. He explained that he desired “mercy not sacrifice”. The idea is that being faithful to ceremonial and religious traditions is not nearly as important as showing mercy to those who are … sinners. It is easy to be comfortable in our religious systems and feel very spiritual in doing so. But Christ came to seek and save that which is lost and the religious sacrifices and keeping of traditions meant nothing if they were not caring for lost people.

We have to be careful that we do not deceive ourselves when we: have fulfilled our ministry roles, done our part in our programs, given our tithe, showed up to set number of activities and followed through on our traditions that we have had our spiritual victory. Our mission is to reach and care for people – not programs or traditions.

In His Grace and Mercy,
Pastor Brad