Mercy is a Better Way

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This morning I have been reading Matthew 15. Some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law approached Jesus as they were building their case that he was a false prophet. The accusation wasn’t the usual charge of breaking the Sabbath by healing someone. This time it was more ludicrous. They badgered Jesus because his disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate.

We’ve all gotten that one from the clean-patrol in our lives, but the Pharisee’s issue wasn’t about germs as much as it was about protocol. Under the guise of trying to not let anything “unclean” enter their bodies, they washed their hands. Admirable, but Jesus nails them for their worship of doing things right over doing the right things. Have mercy. I’ve been to about half of my charge conferences and it’s the same story. I have a lot of churches that value doing things right to the point that they aren’t in ministry to those around them until the idea snakes its way through all the right church channels. In the meantime, people are getting cold with the change of season, and they’re hungry. We let our methodical United Methodism insulate us from our true heritage as a group that would do whatever it took to reach the people on the margins.

We are the domesticated and comfortable middle to upper class now. Jesus gave the Pharisees a zinger. He asked how could they say they kept the Law such as honoring parents when they had a tradition that allowed them to deprive their parents of needed help by saying their resources were going to be used for a better purpose in the temple, which, by the way, gave them a better seat in the Sanhedrin. “No fair!” says Jesus. You can’t let human tradition trump God’s intentions. Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right. They were doing things right by their standards but not by God’s.

As I trudge through more charge conferences oh how I want to hear about risky, daring ministries that value people more than a “that’s the way we’ve always done things around here” attitude. I uphold the Book of Discipline, and I uphold grace. Jesus is pushing my buttons today, Book of Discipline guy that I am. How can I make a personal difference today in someone’s life, not by paragraph 423.13, but by Matthew 5:6?

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