Go and learn what this means...
Imagine how the Pharisees, the most learned men regarding the Scriptures of their day, felt when Jesus told them to "Go and learn what this means..." The setting was a meal. Jesus had just called Matthew, a tax collector to follow Him, and he did. Then Jesus went to Matthew's house to eat and Matthew invited his tax collector friends to join them. I'm not exactly sure how uninvited guests (the Pharisees) could walk by someone's house back then, see them dining with company, and just walk in and start asking questions, but that is what they apparently did. They didn't question Jesus himself. They went to His disciples, wondering why their master ate with "publicans and sinners".
I wonder if they expected Jesus to be the one to answer that question. But Jesus heard and answered. It was His answer that made me pause as I was reading the account today.
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13)
The part in bold was a quote from Hosea 6:6, a verse with which the Pharisees would have been familiar. And yet, Jesus told them to "Go and learn what this means..." They may have known the verse, might have even memorized it and could read the whole passage with flourish in their synagogues, but they missed the meaning.
I wonder how often I miss the meaning of what God wants to teach me.
Earlier in Matthew's gospel, Jesus said, "“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
In other words, they knew how to sacrifice, how to do the good works they thought God required. As a woman once said to me, "After all I've done for Him, He better let me in." As if heaven was something deserved or earned.
The Pharisees knew all about sacrifices. And yet Jesus told them, "Go and learn what this means...I desire mercy, and not sacrifice." Hosea translates mercy "steadfast love". Love and mercy show themselves in works - doing for other people as we would have them do for us. Maybe we would like people to prophesy over us, cast a demon out of someone we love, or do mighty, powerful works in Jesus' name. And Jesus isn't saying those are bad things.
He's pointing out that all the sacrifices and works in the world don't matter if the heart isn't right. To do God's will is to know the One He sent to earth, His Son. The Pharisees should have recognized Him by the miracles, by the prophesies He fulfilled, but they were caught up in all the works, the sacrifices, the lengthy prayers in the marketplace, the tithe they were so careful to get right. They knew how to do the right things, but for all the wrong reasons. Just like the people Jesus talked about earlier when He said not everyone who calls Him Lord, knows Him.
Go and learn what this means...I desire steadfast love...I desire mercy...
Come and know Him. That's what He wants us to learn.