Mercy, Not Sacrifice

In the late-90s when I was an ordained Christian minister working with my husband in a medium-sized church in the northern Melbourne suburb of Glenroy, my own faith and spiritual practice was undergoing a transformation. While away at a week-long silent retreat, I found myself drawn to Jesus’ words in Matthew 9:13:


mercy not sacrifice


I spent the rest of the week trying to comprehend what it meant, to come up with a theory, a premise, perhaps even a sermon idea. I saw it, at first, as another concept to understand. By the end of the week, I had realised there would be no walking away with a neat philosophy. This statement of Jesus would be something I would have to learn through the stuff of living life.

One year later, at the next retreat, I read Luke 6:36:

Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful

This comes hard on the heels of that very difficult saying of Jesus about loving one’s enemies. It’s a reference to God’s self-proclamation found in the Hebrew scripture in Exodus 34:5-6:

The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with (Moses), and proclaimed the name, ‘The LORD.’ The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

The Hebrew word translated in English as ‘LORD’, could equally be translated as ‘I am who I am’ or ‘I am who I will be’, so this self-proclamation of God contains a statement of essence – God is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

Therefore, learning mercy means learning how to be gracious, how to slow down the rise of anger and and how to remain resolute in my commitment to love. It also means learning fidelity, another underused word.

That’s when I realised this idea of learning ‘mercy, not sacrifice’ would be a life-long learning. That was fifteen years ago. I’m still learning.