A Lesson in Compassion

Matthew 9:12-13 (ESV)
"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.”

We shake our heads often at the actions of the Pharisees, but all too often we mimic their behavior, if truth be told. In this study verse, we get a sense of the uncomfortableness of the Pharisees with the actions of Jesus. They likely would have recognized the response Jesus gave in v. 13 as one from the prophet Hosea (Hosea 6:6) which would only add to their irritation.

It is not as if Jesus (or Hosea) were denouncing sacrifice—they were not—but rather the religious rituals surrounding the hypocritical Pharisaic way of life. Jesus was connecting this group to the apostates of Hosea’s day for the lack of compassion. The Hebrew word for mercy can be translated to “steadfast love”, a concept that would be completely foreign to the Pharisees.

As we reflect on our own lives, can we see any instances where we could easily be identified as behaving similar to the Pharisees in our study verse? Do we have a tendency to isolate ourselves from the “fringes” of society because of either fear or being uncomfortable?

Jesus demonstrated unconditional love right in front of everyone, yet most saw it only as a defilement; something along the lines of guilt by association. It was an affront to be seen in the company of sinners and by acting in such a manner, Jesus was in effect threatening the way of life of a typical Pharisee. By exposing their behavior, Jesus laid the charge of hypocrisy right at their feet and rest assured they did not appreciate their lofty position being challenged. And it certainly did not go unnoticed by the Pharisees His rebuke of them beginning in v.13 with the words “Go and learn…” By doing this, He was equating their Scriptural knowledge to that of a child.

Where the Pharisees saw righteousness by observing the laws and the additions made by the Jewish elders, Jesus sees righteousness completely different. It is not in our observation of all of the ordinances where we are made righteous, but in our compassion and mercy we extend to others.

This is just as true today as it was then. Observing rituals, reciting rote prayers, and following the dogmatic rules created by men will not earn our eternal reward; nor will simply showing up to church and sitting in a pew for an hour each week. Only through the acceptance of the unmerited grace offered by Jesus Christ can we obtain eternal glory (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is then through this free gift, that the Fruit of the Spirit become manifested in our daily walk (Galatians 5:22-23).

This is what Jesus wants from us. He wants those who have accepted His free gift of salvation to exercise the love they now possess as children of God. To extend mercy to the least of us and not to isolate ourselves by only interacting with people "similar" to us.

We are supposed to go into the world and share the Good News. Are you ready to show such compassion?