After Jesus called Matthew the tax collector to be one of his disciples, he went over to his house for dinner, which raised no small stir with the religious crowd. The Bible goes on to say that ‘many other’ tax collectors and sinners showed up as well, and they all ate together, which prompted the religious to ask why, to Jesus’ team of disciples, would He eat with them. This was Jesus’ response;
‘When Jesus heard that, he said, "Healthy people don't need a doctor; those who are sick do. 13 Learn what this means: 'I want mercy, not sacrifices.' I've come to call sinners, not people who think they have God's approval."’
I love it when Jesus called it for what it was with the religious heads of the day. Religion has this way of making you think that serving God is all about your works, your report card of good deeds, performances and your sacrifices. If you just lay it all on the altar, you will achieve something more; if you follow every rule, you will ascend to the pinnacle of God’s favor; if you just get into some sort of spiritual regiment, your regiment will show everyone your closeness to God – and the list goes on. We can get caught up in the mindset that our works are earning us some sort of merit with God and that our sacrifices somehow prove we have given all to follow Jesus. Be careful of the trap of religion, because it is subtle…and be careful that you hear what I’m saying, and what I’m not.
Sacrifices for a believer is important and necessary. Having a regiment which will result in the renewing of the soul is necessary. Laying your ways and plans on God’s altar is necessary – but thinking that all this is earning you something more – and usually ‘more’ than what others are receiving – isn’t necessary. It’s the trap of religion. Religion is all about following a regiment that gives the appearance of spirituality, but in all truth your private life isn’t really what you appear to be. So Jesus confronts the religious and basically says, ‘Drop the act and your empty rituals. I want the genuine who need God’. People who need God are merciful…probably because they are in need of mercy. I think the true litmus test of religion vs pure Christianity hinges a lot on our ability to show mercy. Can a Christian make sacrifices and be regimented and still show mercy? That means believers like you and me can’t put all our emphasis on ‘what big thing we obeyed the Lord in’ but rather, ‘who did I show mercy to lately?!’ You see, sinners don’t care how much of God’s approval I have…they want to see God’s mercy. Do you know somebody who is a sinner, was a sinner, or in the midst of sin? Show them some mercy. Step out and do something they may not deserve, since those people are the ones Jesus is calling for!
(Matthew 9:12 – God’s Word Translation)