God’s Desire for Mercy

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!