I'm still thinking about Jesus' words, "And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, and not acrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless." [Matthew 12:7]
Jesus is quoting Hosea 6:6. It is God speaking through the prophet to his people. He says of them, "Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes away early." Their love was not "steadfast." It was passing. It was probably "situational." You have to figure h[out whether the love is deserved. Whether it is "worth it." Whether the cost is too high or not. O whether, perhaps, it'll just get boring after a while.
But getting back to Jesus. When Jesus questions or even rebukes these Pharisees, I have a feeling that we modern readers tend to fall back on what we've learned about Pharisees back in Sunday School, about how they were legalists and all that (supposedly), and then we feel a pleasant glow of satisfaction in watching Jesus put them in their place. All this, of course, is so as not to let the rebuke fall on us.
So I want to ask myself this question: do I know, do I really know, what it should mean to me that God desires mercy and not sacrifice?
This is the question that the text should force us toward. Have I understood the love of God at all? Do I rest on the mercy of God when mercy is what I most need, but require sacrifices of others when they sin against me (or maybe just bother me a little)? God loves me as I am, or so I like to say. But as for you, I certainly wish you'd change your ways (sacrifice) and then maybe I can start to show you some love.
I have this feeling that when Jesus talks about love and mercy, that's always a key passage. That's always a case of Jesus getting right down to the nitty-gritty. We're following Jesus, day after day, sitting at his feet, hearing his teaching. Again and again, he comes back to this. Did you hear that? It reminds me of what he said about loving your enemy. Your enemy!
And if you think, dear Christian, that you can sus out how and when to apply this teaching, and when not to, then you have not understood it at all. The first need is honest self-assessment. No, I don't believe I have understood what it really means that God desires mercy and not sacrifice. One reason I know that I haven't understood it: I haven't lived it. My mercy is like the morning dew.
I believe, though, that if I am to grow in understanding on this matter . . . understanding what it means for me, and how to live it out . . . I am going to need to keep following Jesus, keep sitting at his feet and drinking in his teaching. There is no other way.