In my time alone with God this past Thursday, I read and meditated on a portion of Matthew 9.
Matt 9:9-13 NASB reads: As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ” Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.10 Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ” Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘ I DESIRE COMPASSION,AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
It seems to me the longer churches exist and the longer we are followers of Christ the more difficulty we have with verse 13. We tend to get them reversed like the Pharisees did and start living by rules instead of relationships. It’s subtle, but we tend to find a list of rules and checklists that serve as our “sacrifices” and we think we’ve done well if we can check them off. However, it seems that Jesus is pretty clear here that relationships are more important than rules. Don’t get me wrong; we are to follow the moral and ethical commands & principles of scripture. However, we need to be careful that we don’t substitute our rule keeping for what matters most and think we’re being “spiritual.” Maybe some of us need to do exactly what Jesus said in Mt. 9:13 – to go and learn what this means – “I desire compassion and not sacrifice.”
Closely related to this is the passage we call the Great Commandment. Jesus said everything is wrapped up in these two commands; to love God with all your heart, soul, mind & strength – and to love your neighbor as yourself. That’s pretty strong in the relationship category! Yes, I’m aware that in 14th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus said if you love me you’ll keep my commands. That means there are “rules” to obey, but don’t judge your spirituality by this alone. I’ve known Christians who kept a pretty good spiritual checklist (like the Pharisees did) whose hearts were far from Christ. In fact, I’ve known a few that kept tons of religious rules, but were mean as snakes and violated a ton of scripture with their fiery tongues & actions.
If you’re going to have a checklist – maybe it should have only one box:  COMPASSION.
To evaluate how we’re doing in our spiritual maturity, we need to take a look at our capacity for compassion instead of our capability in checking off a bunch of rules that may make us look & feel good.
By the way – rule keeping is a lot easier than relationships; relationships get messy and loving like God does isn’t always easy!
Just a thought!