Have you been following along daily? If so, welcome back. If not, welcome. Today, we're continuing from where we left off in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5-7:
"So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny." (5:23-26)
Jesus was Jewish. In Jesus’ time, the Jewish people would bring offerings of sacrifice to their temple in repayment for their sins. It was a longstanding tradition to offer a gift at the temple. Jesus isn’t just speaking about how to be a good Jewish person here, though, he’s actually talking about all of religion in general.
Later on, over and over, Jesus says the words, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” In fact, that phrase is found all over the Bible, Old Testament and New. In Matthew 9, Jesus gets pretty snappy with some dogmatic religious guys and he says, "Go and figure out what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (9:13). Go try to figure this out! Those are some strong words.
So what does that mean? “I desire mercy not sacrifice” means that Jesus is much more concerned with what’s going on in your heart than what you’re bringing to the temple. You can donate a million dollars to the church but if you hate your fellow man, Jesus calls you murderous and cruel.
You could feed the homeless every weekend but if you’re full of jealousy, spite, greed, anger, Jesus says all that work you’re doing is for naught, it means nothing. It’s not enough to work hard and be a good religious person, you’ve got to have love in your heart. You’ve got to be kind. Lastly, Jesus tells us to pay our debts quickly—that just makes good financial sense.
I think minimalists are great at following the rules: We keep our impact small, our possessions few, our debts paid. But is that enough? Shouldn’t we also work to live generously? Jesus himself, it says in the Bible, only owned the clothes on his back and had “nowhere to lay his head.” The ultimate minimalist, right?
Yet we see that Jesus lives to meet the needs of those around him. Truly, throughout his ministry, Jesus was always on the side of the poor, needy, orphaned, widowed, anxious, ill, and oppressed.
In this passage, Jesus begs us, before you go and do your great big religious thing, reconcile yourself to those you've wronged. To those who have wronged you. Giving isn't good enough. The careful observance of our personal code, our religiosity, isn't good enough. Jesus values mercy over ritual.