Prelate's Sermon

I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice

The Prelate’s Sermon, June 26

Today, on the fourth Sunday of the feast of Pentecost the Gospel reading is from Matthew 12:1-8. The Evangelist tells us that on a Sabbath day, as Jesus and His Disciples were crossing a grainfield, His hungry followers began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. Immediately the Pharisees scrutinized them for trespassing the Law of observing the Sabbath. Jesus reminded the Pharisees of similar incidents in the Old Testament and in the life of the priests living in the Temple, and concludes by quoting from Hosea the prophet (6:6), “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice,’ you would not condemn the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 

I would like to pick some kernels of grain from this reading to feed all those who hunger for humility and righteousness. 

  1. In this passage, the Evangelist vividly paints two contradictory scenes: on the one hand, there is the serene natural beauty of the harvest where the breeze gently caresses the heads of grains and is ready to share the Providential bounties to meet the creature’s need; on the other hand, there is the malicious behavior of human beings, full of petrified legalism and criticism.
  2. It is obvious from this narration that the Pharisees were intently following the actions of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to learn from Him, but to entrap Him and accuse Him of false teaching and trespassing against the Laws. It is obvious that they were overanxious to destroy His reputation as a true Rabbi and eventually to condemn Him to death. We can learn from this attitude the greatest lesson that in our daily life we might be surrounded by people who diligently escort us not because they admire us but because they are seeking our failure and fall.
  3. The omniscient Rabbi Jesus, nevertheless, does not use the common self-defense mechanism, but rather peacefully invites the challengers to self-criticism instead of self-righteousness. An Armenian proverb says, “Do not stone your neighbor’s roof when your roof is made of glass.” They were well aware of what Jesus had reminded them; nevertheless, by using a double-standard, their hypocrisy was beyond all judgment. 
  4. Matthew the Evangelist presents Jesus as the New Moses, as both the Law-Giver and the perfection of the Law. Jesus never discredits the value and importance of the Law. He consistently shows that the Law was destined to be not a yoke, but rather a disciplinary regulation of human weaknesses in order to be part of universal harmony. As such, the Law deviated from its original goal, and instead of being a vehicle to facilitate the relationship between the Divine and humanity, it has become a merciless tool, totally disregarding human situations, needs, etc. Instead of paving the road to bring the believers closer to God worshipping Him delightfully, it had become a mode of life akin to the burden of slavery.
  5. Jesus comes to refresh the goal of the Law by reminding us of God’s command which is the essence of the Law, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Hosea 6.6). This is indeed the heart, the base of all rules. What God expects from humans is not to praise Him, but rather to regulate our horizontal relationship for our own welfare, which itself becomes a true sacrifice praising His Providential care. By offering to Him what belongs to Him is not a sacrifice. We should offer what pleases His Will and what edifies His Creation.
  6. The concluding statement “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” carries the majestic seal that “Jesus Christ is the only Lord for the glory of the Father” as the Divine Liturgy hymn reminds us before taking the Holy Communion. With all our human education, experience, and merits, once we are in His presence with awesome fear “we should empty ourselves” (cf. Phil 2:7) from human vanities of boasting or challenging the only Lord of the universe. 

With this great teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ, who always helps us as trouble-shooter, let us welcome Him in our journey from life to Life and in all circumstances, and in our successes or shortcomings let us ask for His guidance, and thankfully praise and glorify the All-Holy Trinity. Amen.