“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

In Matthew 12:1-8, Jesus says to the Pharisees, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

The Pharisees were complaining that Jesus’ disciples, who were hungry, were picking the heads of wheat grain from the fields eating as they walked, saying that it was unlawful to do so on the Sabbath. Jesus counters that the priests serving in the temples also violate the Sabbath and that when King David was hungry he ate “the bread of offering” that was meant only for priests. If his disciples were breaking the rules, so were the Pharisees and King David.

You might be tempted to think that Jesus was just calling out the Pharisees for being hypocrites. But there was another message in those five words: We shouldn’t let the hungry go unfed on a pretext.

The Pharisees were trying to mess with Jesus and he was countering them, no doubt . But his disciples were hungry and just as when Jesus fed the five thousand after the sermon on the mount with two fish and five loaves, his concern was over feeding the hungry, favoring mercy over their sacrifice. Jesus told his disciples as much when they complained that they didn’t have enough food to feed the five thousand.

How often today do we dismiss the hunger of the poor and disadvantaged based on our own presumptions or reliance on “rules”? We presume they don’t work or they don’t work hard enough; we assume they are lazy or unwilling to try; we are “sure” they are trying to scam the system or are breaking rules while we are always the totally virtuous. We apply what may be true of a very few to the very many. Presumptions. Pretexts. Over-managing rules.

Jesus says he prefers we feed the hungry, not make them sacrifice for our rules and presumptions. It’s about mercy.

Those who presume the hungry don’t deserve to be fed haven’t read their Bible – or at least haven’t read their whole Bible.

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