I remember encountering Jesus’ words “I desire mercy not sacrifice” for the first time. Or I should say it was the first time it actually caught my eye and heart. I was confused. What’s wrong with sacrifice? Sacrifice is good. Shoot, it’s what Jesus did for us: He sacrificed His life so that we could have life eternal. So, what’s the deal? Well, you know that if God is trying to teach you something, He’ll bring that up consistently until you finally get it. Months went by and I found that phrase a few more times in scripture. Why not sacrifice? Like any good nerd would do, I took to the dictionary, looking up the definitions of these two words. That didn’t help. Mercy means showing compassion, and sacrifice means giving someone something you really want in order to help him or her (which to me is showing compassion). Um, ok, both are good. So I kept on reading and asking, “What does this mean?” Jesus said, “Go and learn what this means” Matthew 9:13. So I went.
Many of you know that last year God put it on my heart to renovate my garage for a man I met during homeless ministry. It was a hard year trying to find help to complete the project and coming up empty the majority of the year. It was so hard that I thought the actual renovation was the hardest part. I was wrong. The hardest part was yet to come: investing deeply in another person’s life.
There have been many ups and downs and many, many, many failures so far. I mean, there’s a man who comes from a totally different background than I and has many challenges I feel ill equipped to deal with. But I try. And I fail…did I mention that part?
As I’ve been going about this new life with many sacrifices and many opportunities to show mercy and grace, it dawned on me. Mercy requires investing, and sacrifice does not (it can, but it doesn’t have to). Showing mercy is hard because when we have to show mercy it’s because we’re in an unfavorable or uncomfortable situation, we’ve been hurt, or we don’t agree with what another person has said or done.
Sacrifice means that we can write a check, donate clothes (be honest – clothes we no longer want), donate food, or serve food to someone. These are all good things, but these are all things that we can walk away from unscathed. Showing mercy means we will not walk away unscathed. It means we must enter into another person’s brokenness and abide with him or her. It means we must listen to stories from a messy life, mistakes made in the past, and current daily screw-ups. It means being patient when we want to scream. It means choosing to love in spite of our feelings. It means seeing our own brokenness being brought to light.
It’s hard. It’s messy. And it leaves us feeling like a failure most of the time. But let me offer some encouragement: if we are seeking God and relying on His strength and relying on His grace when we mess up and continuing to go in deeper every day, we are not failing. We are going and finding out what Jesus means.