God’s Desire for Mercy

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In Matthew’s gospel account, he retells a time that the disciples were hungry and began to pluck heads of grain to satisfy their hunger. “When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath'” (Matthew 12:2 ESV). Jesus was quick to remind them of the time David was hungry and did what was unlawful by entering the Temple and eating the bread of Presence, which was reserved only for the priests. He also reminded them that the priests profane the Sabbath in the temple when they make sacrifices.

Jesus then said, “I tell you, something greater than the Sabbath is here. And if you had known what it means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (vs. 7, 8). Jesus’ point (as well as God’s point in Hosea 6:6 that Jesus quotes, is that God prefers mercy over following the letter of the law. We can technically get the law right and not have a good heart. I’ve known people in law enforcement who give family members tickets for very minor infractions. Isn’t it better to show mercy to the innocent than to enforce every law and make their life burdensome?

Jesus is the lord of Sabbath, and he gives us room to practice mercy to the innocent. In fact, he expects us to!

The Dust of the Rabbi

black and white photo of bare feet and dust

There was an ancient phrase called “following in the dust of the Rabbi.” It meant that disciples, or followers, of a teacher would follow so closely that the dust kicked up from the rabbi’s feet would get on the people following. It was an honor and privilege to follow in the dust of a Rabbi. Usually someone would seek out a teacher they wanted to follow. A teacher could allow or disallow someone to follow them. This practice was usually formal and occurred in Jewish religious centers.

This is where Jesus differed. Here, the Rabbi was walking around the Sea of Galilee, far away from Jerusalem where the religious schools were. And it was not followers seeking Jesus, but was rather Jesus seeking followers. Where he actually called Peter, Andrew, James and John is debatable, but we know they grew up in Bethsaida, a town that means “house of fishing.” Bethsaida was a town of only about 600-800 people. It’s likely, given the narratives in the Bible, that they were fishing in their hometown when they were called.

According to Matthew, Peter and Andrew were casting their nets when Jesus was walking along the lake. He said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19 ESV). They immediately left everything and followed him. He saw James and John with their father a little while later. They were in their boat mending nets. Jesus called them and they, too, left everything to follow Jesus. The rest is, as they say, history! It took a tremendous level of commitment and courage to follow Jesus. Sometimes we forget that these disciples left everything to follow in the dust of the Rabbi. And he calls us to follow him too!

The Bread of Life

bread food fresh hands

Jesus, after feeding the 5,000, went across the lake (or should we say “walked” across the lake) to get to the other side. We all know the story. His disciples were exhausted. They went to the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee to get away from people. Instead, they were met by thousands of desperate, hungry people. Jesus miraculously fed them, filling their cups for the day. While he retreated to pray, he sent his disciples ahead of him by boat at night. When a storm arose, they thought they would drown. They saw Jesus walking on water and he stopped to calm the storm.

When they got to the other side again, a crowd was waiting for them, hungry and desperate for food. Instead of food, Jesus gave them a speech about him being the bread of life. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:50-51 ESV). Sounds, um, interesting, but what does this have to do with getting a square meal? When the people became upset, Jesus doubled down: “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (vs. 58). Not only did he say it, but he said all this in a synagogue!

Jesus told them that there were some who would not believe that he has the words of eternal life. He then said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the father” (vs. 65). John records that after this, many of his disciples turned and no longer walked with him. Jesus asked his remaining 12 apostles if they wanted to leave too. Peter asked where they would go, since he had the words of eternal life. Jesus really is the only way. We may think there are other ways to heaven, but we are only fooling ourselves. We need to keep feasting on the bread of life!

Mount Up With Wings Like Eagles

black and white eagle

Isaiah wrote during a very dark time in Israel’s history. As an 8th Century prophet, he witnessed the Assyrian invasion of the North in 722 B.C. These were troubling times for Israel, with a host of deaths, wars, and immorality. It seemed like the fires that were burning all over Israel had fuel dumped on each one, exasperating an already terrible problem of idolatry and oppression.

But God’s message in Isaiah 40 was one of comfort for the few who remained faithful. Isaiah begins his message to Jerusalem: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2 ESV).

God’s message is clear: those who need comforted will receive comfort and hose who are weary will be strengthened. “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint” (vs. 31). God saw the exhaustion on the people who were sorrowful from all the destruction. They were waiting for God to intervene and do something. No doubt, many people lost family members to war.

God is the same God he was yesterday. If we are weary, God will comfort and give strength.

The “Black Eye” Widow

brown wooden gavel on brown wooden table

Jesus gives us a parable in Luke 18 of the persistent widow. In this story, a widow comes to a judge and is pleading for help. The judge did not fear God nor did he respect man. But the widow didn’t give up. Day after day, she came to him, saying, “Give me justice against my adversary.” For a while the judge would not entertain her request.

After a while, though, he said to himself, “Though I neither fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming” (Luke 18:4, 5 ESV). The word choice here is interesting. She keeps “bothering” the judge. The word used here means to wear one out by overworking them. Then he says he doesn’t want her to “beat me down” by her continual coming. The word here literally means to give someone a black eye. It was an idiom used for someone who was relentless.

The incredible thing is that Jesus is using this widow as an example of how TO pray! “And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?” (vs. 7). Jesus is telling his followers to be like the “Black Eye Widow,” to keep coming to God over and over again. We shouldn’t be afraid to be bold and persistent in our prayers!

Where Two or Three Are Gathered

women praying beside green trees

Matthew 18 can be a tricky chapter. Jesus begins by saying that the greatest in the kingdom must become like little children. Then he says that it would be better for someone who causes any of the little ones to suffer to have a large millstone tied around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Then Jesus goes into a discourse on the necessity for mercy. He tells the parable of the lost sheep, followed by a story about the brother who sins against his other brother. He says if that brother sins against you, go and show him his fault. If he listens, you have won your brother over. But if he refuses, you should take one or two others along with you. If he still refuses, the brother is to be brought before the church.

Then Jesus tells them, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:19, 20 ESV). This verse has been used out of context to “prove” that it’s only necessary for two or three people to be present to worship God. But that is far from the point of the passage. The point is that there is power in the witness of two or more people. Whether we are disciplining, worshiping, or praying, there is power when two or three gather.

This is important for those of us who pray for others. James says that the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Christians need to work together, not isolated from one another. When we work together God is present and powerful!

Meditating On His Word

silhouette of man at daytime

Meditation is not a word we use enough as Christians. Given its frequency in the scriptures, it’s surprising that we don’t encourage each other to take time to mediate. We may associate meditation with a practice that was common among ancient monks. They literally meditated day and night, and were exceptionally disciplined in the practice. But what about today? The more we are distracted by constant information, devices, and the noise of life, the more we are losing the connection with God through mediation.

Mediation, prayer, and reading scriptures (the Law), were all intertwined. There were several words used in Hebrew that translate to mediation in English. These words range in meaning from musings (“reflection”) to whispering in the heart to moaning, uttering, or speaking out loud. Mediation does not take on only one inward, silent form.

The Psalms are full of references to mediation. For example, Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Similarly, in Psalm 19, David says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.”

Over and over again, people meditate on God and His word, even keeping watch in the middle of the night. There is something to be said about meditating on God’s word. It completely shifts our paradigm. It moves us from takers to seekers. It causes us to reflect daily on the goodness of God. When our attitude changes, we are far more prone to helping others. Selfishness fades in the discipline of meditation.