Today, Jesus gives us what might be considered to be his mission statement: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Or at least we might consider this to be his statement of what he wants from us, his people. Because we, like the Pharisees, might be tempted to make all sorts of sacrifices. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing; it might mean sacrificing our time to work long hours to attain our goals. Or maybe we sacrifice to give to the poor, or spend more time at Church, or whatever. None of those things is bad in and of themselves. In fact, depending on our intentions, they are probably good things.
But here’s where Jesus is making his point: if we don’t have mercy in the mix, if we don’t then also extend God’s love to our family, coworkers, or whoever God puts in our presence today, then we’ve blown it. It’s all for nothing. All our striving, all our hard work, none of that means anything if we don’t become more like God himself; our God who is mercy and love and grace at his core.
Pope Francis has called for a special Year of Mercy to begin this December and the theme for it is “Merciful Like the Father.” That’s where we have to put our intentions and effort. We have to become more merciful in every moment: giving a break to the guy who just cut us off in traffic; being more patient with a six-year-old who has just asked the same question ten different ways, ten separate times; being loving enough to check in on an elderly relative whose disabilities have made him or her a bit cranky; and forgiving the one who has hurt us to our core. None of these things is easy to do, especially that last one. So we look to the one who is mercy itself to teach us how to do it; we ask him to make us more merciful like him.
Because if we put mercy first, if we forgive as we have been forgiven and love as we have been loved, then we’ve gotten our mission statement right, too.