The two diplomas I’ve earned hang on a wall in my office. For years I had them tucked away on a shelf. But Karen decided they needed to be framed and displayed.
When I wasn’t looking one day she took them to a frame shop. When she opened up the diploma folder along with the sheepskin was a card. Apparently our seven-year-old son Taylor wanted to commemorate my graduation. He wrote:
from Taylor To Rick Allen Brown. The Best dad in the world. Sertificit of Honer for Rick Allen Brown which is a masters of Devinity Graguit. This picture is about an Early Bird which is eating a worm.
There is also a drawing of a bird pulling a very worried worm up from the ground in his beak.
If you were to analyze the note you’d see it one way. The spelling isn’t all right. My middle name is “Alan” and not “Allen.” “Divinity” is misspelled as well as “graduate.” But really, who cares? This was a gift from a seven-year-old to his dad.
My reaction when Karen showed me the diploma and picture framed together? I told Karen, “That card means more to me than the diploma.”
And people mean more to our Father than crossing T’s and dotting I’s. Unfortunately, the church can forget that. Even in the first century the Jewish teachers focused on three identity markers that said who was “in” and who was “out”: dietary laws, circumcision, and the Sabbath. Who you ate with fit in with the dietary laws. They looked at the spelling instead of the heart.
Matthew was clearly on the outside. He didn’t quite fit the identity markers of the day. He was a Jew so he probably met the circumcision criteria. (I’m not quite sure how they checked that one out.) Maybe he was lax with dietary laws and missed a Sabbath every now and then.
So when Jesus called Matthew, Matthew followed. Then he threw a party at his house and invited his tax collector and sinner friends. In their culture “reclining at table” with people was a sign that you approved of them, that you accepted them. The Pharisees saw it, didn’t like who Jesus was hanging out with, and complained. Jesus answered them with this important line: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’”
“Mercy” comes from the Old Testament word hesed. It’s used over 250 times in the Old Testament. It’s used 127 times in the 150 Psalms. If you had asked an Israelite in Old Testament times to give you one word to describe their God this is the word they would give: hesed.
Jesus says to “learn” what it means. The word for “learn” is one that means to “learn by use and practice.” Jesus was practicing hesed. The Pharisees were not. They were practicing sacrifice. And because they did they expected something from God.
Matthew expected nothing. And yet he got everything. And when he did he had to share it. Mercy means breaking down barriers and throwing parties where Jesus is present.
Imagine what could happen if we “learned mercy.” Our communities would change. And if our communities changed our cities would change. And if our cities would change, our nation would change. And if our nation changed…well, you can see that the world might change.
Matthew learned mercy. He took his tax collector pen and invited friends to meet Jesus. He used it to write his Gospel so his Jewish friends could learn that they could never offer enough sacrifices to expect anything from the Messiah.
But they could learn mercy. Learning mercy translates into loving people who aren’t expecting anything. It means throwing a few parties.
Even when some words on the invitation are misspelled.
Question: How can you learn “mercy” this week?