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Go and learn what this means

Nobody really likes taxes, well, maybe the tax collector does.  Long ago tax collectors were despised because the determined their own profit margins.  Everyone hated them, except for a man named Jesus.  He brought them good news.
Nobody really likes taxes, well, maybe the tax collector does. Long ago tax collectors were despised because the determined their own profit margins. Everyone hated them, except for a man named Jesus. He brought them good news.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Read Matthew 9:9-13

Think about growing up and living the best way that you knew how. In fact most people would say that you were a good person.

There were plenty of A’s on you report card. You were on all the right councils and committees and in the right clubs.

You may have even been an athlete.

You not only went on to higher education but attained your graduate and even Doctorate degrees. You were considered an expert in your field and you always sought and received special assignments.

If people had a question on just about anything, they could come to you.

You were confident, and with good reason. You had poured everything you had into being the best at what you did.

The words, “Good enough” had never crossed your lips. It was the best or nothing.

That didn’t mean that you did not make mistakes. It meant that you knew exactly what to do when you did. There was a formula for fixing what was wrong. That formula usually involved a sacrifice.

You knew the rules of the game and you knew them better than anyone else. You were at the top of your game, at the top of your field. You were the best that you could be.

Life was good.

Then these bunch of upstarts came along and tried to change the game. They said there was something that was better than all the rules you had spent years memorizing. They challenged the establishment. They were a grassroots movement that had to be stopped.

Those in authority agreed and they counted on you to root out this movement. You were all over that, so much so that you were dispatched to other regions. Your territory had grown. Your authority would be more than regional. It might just go global.

Then as sometimes happens to frequent travelers, your plans were interrupted. This was no two hour delay at Dulles International. This was thrown off your horse and blinded and overwhelmed by a great light.

This was an encounter in which you realized that everything you had worked for was for nothing. This was the original road to Damascus encounter.

Everything that you had studied your entire life was the truth. It was God’s word, but somehow you never understood the heart of God.

Somehow you missed the message of mercy.

Somehow you were blind to the message of grace.

Somehow the system of sacrifices for sin was just too comfortable to give up. Somehow in all of God’s messages to humankind, the people saw the system and the this for that and the count and measure elements of the law but missed the love that was behind it.

People hemmed in mercy and gave free reign to sacrifice. But this is what they knew and they were good at it. Tit for tat ruled while God’s mercy was ignored.

There is the oft told story of the crew that was cutting a path through the jungle. The version that I remember comes from Stephen Covey.

The workers are cutting and hacking and chopping like crazy. There is a support crew that keeps feeding them sharpened machetes and saws and pick axes. This is a well oiled machine.

Then the leader of the group tells his managers that he is going to climb the tallest tree he can find to get an overall perspective on their progress.

So the leader climbs the tree and can’t believe what he is seeing. He shouts back down to his managers: “We are going the wrong way.”

They all yell back in unison: “Shut up. We are making good progress.”

Sometimes we are the guy driving down the highway at 80 mph and we don’t want to hear that we are heading the wrong way. “We’re making good time.”

Jesus had begun his ministry. He preached what we call the Sermon on the Mount, healed many, calmed a storm, told people that there was a cost to following him, and then came to a tax collector named Matthew. Some may have called him Levi.

Jesus said, “Follow me.”

Matthew followed. Somehow the two ended up at Matthew’s house for dinner. Others joined them. By others, we mean other tax collectors and a group of people that the rule makers of the day would just lump together as “sinners.”

Now the logistics of this scene are a bit hard to figure out. Jesus is dining with Matthew and company. Maybe the disciples are dining too but somehow the Pharisees take note of this and ask the disciples, “Why is your rabbi hanging out with that crowd?”

We don’t know if any of the disciples tried to answer or not. What we do know is that Jesus knew what they were asking and answered, “This isn’t a well visit. This isn’t an annual checkup. The sick need a doctor and I am making a house call.”

Close enough.

The statement that followed was one that cut to the heart of why Jesus came in the flesh.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The Message translates this way.

Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

Jesus came into this world and knew that before he left he would make the sacrifice of all time but he challenged those who should have had eyes to see to look beyond their rules and religion and see the love and mercy and kindness of God.

Sometimes, we just quote that Jesus said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” but that leaves out the verbs that apply to us.

Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means.”

He didn’t say, “Hang around and you will understand mercy.”

He told the rule makers—the ones who studied more than anyone—to go away and to study again everything they knew looking for the heart of God.

If they did that, they might just understand what was about to transpire for the rest of human history.

· The heart of God which had come in the flesh in the person of Jesus desired that none perish and all come to life in Christ.

· That this Message, this Word, this Logos that we know as Jesus the Christ, came not because humankind and finally matured enough that we were ready for a savior; but because we were headed the wrong direction. And we were making good progress. We were headed the wrong direction but were making great time.

· They might have seen that the God to whom they made so many sacrifices had come to heal the sick and find the lost and bring sight to the blind.

· They might have seen that the God to whom they made so many sacrifices came to bring love and hope and mercy and kindness to all, not just a privileged few.

· They might have had eyes to see that God himself would make the sacrifice.

· They might have seen that Love himself was having dinner right before their eyes with the outcasts of this world instead of with them.

God’s love and his mercy is for all.

We should heed the directions that Jesus gave the Pharisees lest we become like them.

But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

God desires that our lives be governed by his love. Love not rules is the ruling force in our lives.

And our love may not be exclusionary.

Jesus said even the pagans—the godless—know to love those who will love them back. In fact, they are very proficient at scratching the backs of people that they know will scratch theirs.

God’s love—and we are very much the messengers, letters, and ambassadors of that love— is for all and we don’t get to pick and choose whom we love. We follow Jesus and he loved the unlovable.

Outcasts.

Mistfits.

The deformed and diseased.

He even loved Romans and Samaritans and even Tax Collectors.

Jesus did not come to validate their lifestyles but to lead them to life, real life, abundant life, eternal life.

Jesus did not hang out with sinners to say “Just keep on keepin’ on,” but to bring salvation and life to them.

Those the world had rejected, God invited into his kingdom.

Those the world looked down upon, God sat down and enjoyed a meal in their company.

For those that knew they were sick, God made a house call.

Those who are sick today still wonder, “What more does God want from me.”

Those who have been healed by his wounds stand in wonder and say, “What mercy you have poured out on me.”

Those who still search for salvation in sacrifices cry out, “How much more?”

Those who believe in the sacrifice for all time cry out, “Jesus is Lord!”

The Doctor has made a house call and we have been healed; therefore, we must love as he loves:

Outcasts.

Mistfits.

The deformed and diseased.

Even the Romans and Samaritans and Tax Collectors of our day.

We must know the heart that knows mercy. We are called to know the heart of God and live as his children.

Mercy not sacrifice is what God wants.

We need to obey the command of Jesus to the Pharisees, to the religious rule makers, and surely to the Christians of the 21st Century.

Go and learn what this means: Our Father who is love desires love and mercy not rules and rituals.

Jesus met people where they were. He met them in the middle of their busy and worldly and messed up lives.

That happens to be the same place where he met us.

But he came not to just say hello and leave us in the middle our busyness, our worldliness, and our messed up lives. He came to show us love and mercy.

Love and mercy are what gives us eyes to see.

Let us learn to love mercy and seek the heart of God.

Amen.