January 12, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“Now go and learn what this means: I desire compassion rather than sacrifice. I came to call the sinners [into God’s presence] and not the righteous.” (Matthew 9.13)
So, if we are to “learn by doing” and thus “practice what we preach,” what is it that we are to learn and preach so that we can do and practice. Can you imagine a doctor who spends 8-12 years of study and internship to be a doctor and then never puts their medicinal arts into practice. Even those who “teach” must have spent time in giving care to others. The same was true for Jesus who was the Word from the beginning of time and will be for all time. There will be no time when Jesus is not “the Word.” In all of His existence He puts into practice the Word of God and allows the Word of God to work through Him. The same is intended to be true in our lives. The measure by which we understand the lives of others should be commensurate with the measure we understand ourselves. In far too many instances, that paradigm is true because those who understand little about themselves understand little about others. Sadly, they had little desire to know themselves or others better. They will declare that they know “all they need to know.” The downfall of being a “big frog in a small pond” is that eventually you will be the only frog in the pond. Yes, there will be no room for others and ultimately no room for growth. Even the big frog will cease to exist. But, what cadence and music is there in the symphony of frogs who share the waters of life in community. What may seem to be a cacophony of sounds is actually a symphony of life being celebrated separately together. Along this line of thinking I was reminded with a scripture from the words given to the community of faith in Galatia: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. You all have been baptized into Christ and have thus clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave or free, male or female in the oneness of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 3.26-28) What impact that teaching can have on our lives if we allow it! Do not run too quickly to think that there is a “nothing” identity for ourselves when we are in Christ. What Paul is urging is the embracing of “there is nothing that can separate us from God or one another where love is evident.” The courts of the Temple in Jerusalem were separated into such identities which would align with what Paul taught to the Galatians. Such divisions of the House can only lead to destruction. Jesus said “A house divided against itself shall never stand.” (Mark 3) How impactful is that piece of information when Jesus would later state, “You can tear down this house but in three days I will build it back up again.” Those to whom He spoke were amazed and astonished. They desired to hear treasonous words and a threat to destroy the Temple in Jerusalem. More aghast were they with His claim that He could rebuild in three days what took men decades to build. Yet, Jesus wasn’t speaking about the Temple at all but the “house fellowship” of faith, hope and love which had been cultivated in three years of ministry. Where “the enemy” believed they could save themselves by having Jesus eliminated, Jesus knew that God intended to resurrect His House as a community of faith to endure forever. In His House, there were be no separate courts for Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, men and women. They would all be together in one place with One God, One Lord and One Spirit. Isn’t it telling that in the days of Jesus the one place where all those people could gather in the temple together was for the buying and selling of “indulgences,” sacrifices to be offered for the sake of petitioning the mercy and forgiveness of God? It was a place that had been intended for prayer but Jesus recognized it as having been turned into “a den of thieves.” In God’s House built by the hands of Christ Jesus there would be no need for buying and selling anything to obtain mercy. The ultimate sacrifice had been made with the atoning death of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God. The empowerment of a people at work in the life of the Word came with His resurrection to demonstrate the fullest extent of God’s great love. And it was not just with the resurrection of Jesus as the Christ “on the third day” which was so empowering. It would also be on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit of God came down to dwell on, in and through the people who had made themselves at home in Jesus Christ.
Paul would declare to the community of faith in Corinth, “Behold, the old has passed away and the new has come for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (2 Corinthians 5.17) This is what Paul himself had learned growing out of that moment on the Damascus Road where he met the resurrected Jesus face to face. The experience of the glory of God blinded him so that he could see. What did he see? That his desire for sacrifice had blinded him to the mercy of God which was the true requirement of righteousness. Paul knew the teaching of the prophet Micah who preached the Word of God that said, “He has shown you, mortal man, what is His good and what He requires of you: it is to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6.8) And between the ministry of Micah and that of Paul stood the centering teaching of Jesus who told His accusers that night at dinner in Matthew’s house, “”Now go and learn what this means: I desire mercy [compassion] rather than sacrifice. I came to call the sinners [into God’s presence] and not the righteous.” What is it that Jesus wanted them and us to learn? Is it not to build up the body of Christ, the Church as the true community of faith, and not tear others down? Isn’t “tearing down” the tactic used by those who are insecure about themselves having clothed themselves with the façade of security based on threat and demeaning behavior, peer and financial pressure? Don’t they actually build themselves up by tearing others down? It was what the enemies of Jesus, the disciples and the grassroots movement which would be the Church used to blind others so that their own blindness would not be visible. “Oh, there are none so blind as those who refuse to see!” Jesus would say those very words in just a few verses following the ones we have reflected on the past three days. He sent them out to learn by giving them the truth that would set them free. However, no sooner were they out the door and back into the world that the lesson was cast off which they could have so easily clothed themselves in. They chose instead the chains of bitterness, adversity, jealousy, ignorance, lust and hatred. In truth, they kept themselves slaves to fear. What did they fear? Jesus would say they feared the truth that there was indeed only One True God, who was their Heavenly Father and thus joint heirs with Jesus and all those who would believe in Him. They lived to sacrifice their future in eternity by demanding all others to become just like them. They could have lived to show mercy so that the future which God intended would be made available to them and through them to all who would believe that Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” which leads in righteousness to the very threshold of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. It may be a hard lesson, to be sure, but it is a most valuable lesson we are called to learn, to teach and to follow all the days of our lives. It is the measure by which we shall be judged as between the sheep and the goats.
Father, in You we have hope because of Your great love that gives us Jesus as our Christ and our Savior. In Him is the Word and the Word is life. May we let it be life for us, in us and through us as we go and learn what Jesus commands of us: to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with Him all the days of our lives. AMEN.