Jesus is a Radical and He calls us to follow His pattern for being the ultimate Radical. I’ve been writing about Radical Grace, and we can’t talk about Radical Grace without also talking about Radical Mercy. The radical nature of God’s mercy is that it is NOT a feeling or an emotion. God’s mercy goes much deeper. Often the view of mercy is like a cartoon I once saw.
2 boys were walking away from a church building and one said to the other: “I think I got it. Grace is getting from God what we don’t deserve and mercy is NOT getting from God what we do deserve. I like grace, but I really love mercy.” And that’s not necessarily a bad way to distinguish the difference from Grace and Mercy. But Mercy is more, so much more than NOT getting what we actually deserve. It’s more than an emotion; it is rooted in the heart and actions of God. It’s more than what God DOESN’T DO to us—it’s more about what God wants to do for us—and here’s the really radical thing—What God Longs To Do THROUGH us.
Think about the story in Matthew 9:9-13. Jesus had been on the other side of the Sea of Galilee where He put a beat-down on some demons who had possessed 2 men. Now He’s back in His other “town” of Capernaum. I know He’s from Nazareth, but think of Capernaum as His lake home. He had performed 2 miracles on 1 man. First He forgave the man of his sins and that got the local Self-Righteous Police up in arms. And to back up His claim to be able to forgive sins, He healed the man of his paralysis. That second miracle made the crowd go wild for Jesus, and this infuriated the Self-Righteous Police even madder.
Picture this: He’s walking down the streets of Capernaum and there it is: The Evil Tax Collector’s Office! Those Pharisees, those Holier-Than-Thou, Better-Than-You, The Protectors-Of-Religion, would probably never walk on that side of the street. They would have gone out of their way to avoid him. He’s a traitor! He’s Made The Bad Choices! He’s gotten rich off the backs of hardworking, honest folks. They would have seen him as disgusting—absolutely disgusting.
You know, like so many do to the homeless. They look at them believing they had made bad choices. That if they just tried harder, had refused the booze and the drugs, they wouldn’t be out there bumming on OUR streets. So they look away in disgust, just like those Protectors-Of-Religion. Have you ever done that to a homeless person? Have you looked away as if they didn’t exist? Did you ever feel disgust, like it was their own fault they were homeless? I know I have and I am totally ashamed of myself. When I do that, I’m not acting like Jesus—I’m not doing what Jesus would do. There’s no Radical Mercy in me! And I hate it!
And this tax collector has a name. He’s called Matthew, but he has another name—probably the name his parents gave him. It’s Levi! Now there’s a name with a lot of potential—it’s a priestly name—the name of the tribe God selected to serve HIM in the Tabernacle. I wouldn’t doubt that those Protectors-Of-Religion had even more disgust because this man was such a failure. He doesn’t deserve the time of day—and he certainly doesn’t deserve to be in the synagogue nor the Temple.
Yet, Jesus does none of those things they would have done. He walks right up to his booth, and gets right in front of his desk. Here’s how I would imagine it happened. Matthew knew he was a Rabbi and probably thought, “Oh, good Lord, another sermon aimed at me.” But Jesus didn’t do that—I can see Jesus looking Matthew square in the eyes and then Jesus smiles—extends His hand and makes an offer that radically changes the life of this despised and hated man. The fact Jesus approached him without judgment or condemnation, smiles, and extends His hand in friendship changed the course of Matthew’s life. And it started with just 6 words—6 words mind you—“Follow me and be my disciple.”
I bet you a dollar to a donut that Matthew didn’t see that coming. And what does Matthew do? With just an approach without judgment, then extending of a hand and an offer—look at what Matthew does: So Matthew got up and followed him. And to mark this change of direction in life, Matthew does what Matthew knows to do—He throws a party with Jesus as the guest of honor. But what’s a party without people? The only friends he has are fellow sinners, so he invites them. And what does Jesus do? He goes to the party! And if the Protectors-Of-Religion weren’t mad enough, this infuriates them. But notice, they don’t dare approach Jesus about the matter.
So they turn on the other disciples with the question: “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” You know my imagination; I would bet those other disciples were scared spit less. After all, how can you answer such a question? Everyone knows you’re not supposed to associate with that kind of people. If you did, next thing you know they would be in church with us! And the Protectors-Of-Religion knows you can’t have people like that in church.
But Jesus doesn’t know you’re not supposed to do that. He hears them talking to His disciples and Jesus Steps Up And Steps In with a quote from the prophet Hosea in 6:6—“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”
He states it in a challenge: “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.” Mercy isn’t the withholding of what is due. Mercy isn’t an emotion or feeling. Mercy is a verb. In the Hebrew, this word mercy has 3 key meanings that we will look at tomorrow.
And remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!