I feel the anger rising as I scroll. “She is so ignorant.” “I can’t believe he actually thinks that.” “What is wrong with her?” The contempt for these “friends” on Facebook pours forth as I read through their questionable posts. And just like that, the mini Pharisee in me has taken over.
I cringe whenever I catch myself in these moments. Weren’t the Pharisees, or religious leaders, the bad guys in all those Bible stories? They were the “Mean Girls” of Jesus’ time: ruling Jewish society, judging who was “in” or “out” of their circle, turning their noses up at anyone who didn’t fit in. They certainly didn’t want any unsavory characters sitting with them at the cool table.
When this happens, I always come back to the gathering described in Matthew 9:9-13. In this particular story, the Pharisees ask the disciples why Jesus is hanging out with losers and rejects, aka tax collectors and sinners. Jesus had even just recruited Matthew, a tax collector (gasp!), to be one of his Twelve Apostles (the scandal!).
Jesus overhears this and says, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”
He wasn’t there to win a popularity contest with those who were doing everything right, but to help those who were struggling. But Jesus really drops the mic when he references God speaking to the Israelites through the prophet Hosea:
“For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6).
Jesus knew the Pharisees, who were very concerned with observing Mosaic law, yet seriously failed at showing compassion, would immediately recognize this language … and the zinger still hits its mark today: God desires that we show each other the same love and mercy that he shows us all. Showing compassion is more important to Him than any religious ritual or sacrifice.
All the well-intentioned commandment-observing, Bible-reading, and church-going in the world mean nothing if we forget this.
For me, that may look like welcoming someone who has different opinions than me, rather than dismissing them outright. It may look like trying to understand where someone is coming from, rather than immediately unfriending them. As long as someone isn’t being hateful and is also willing to listen, why shouldn’t I welcome them to my table?
It’s hard to admit that I’m a Pharisee sometimes, that I look down on others because I think I am better than them because of how I think or behave. I am guilty of getting stuck in my own moral rightness and giving serious side-eye to those who are against me. I fail at mercy. And I know I’m not alone.
Today – with political polarization, social unrest, racial injustice and disagreements on just about everything under the sun – it feels even easier to fall into this division of “us” vs. “them.” We are the villains in each other’s stories.
What really gets my blood boiling is when I see Christians pitted against others and each other. Instead of unifying, we have become part of the problem. If that angers me more than anything, I can’t even imagine how much it hurts God.
So when I feel my mini-Pharisee fuming and judging, Matthew 9:13 keeps me in check.
“Go and learn the meaning of the words…” We should all take time to think about what these words really mean – “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” How am I practicing mercy right now? Am I letting everyone sit at my table like Jesus did, or am I just being a mean girl?