1. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. If God desired mercy or love instead of sacrifices, why did He require sacrifices as part of covenant with Him? To understand God’s complaint, spoken through the mouth of the prophet Hosea and reiterated by Jesus, we have to understand what sacrifice was really about.
2. First, sacrifice can be understood as a means of getting rid of false gods. In the ancient world, for example in Egypt, many people associated the gods with various animals. Killing these animals and spreading their blood as part of the rituals of religion was therefore a way of putting the false god to death and putting the True God first. The same was true of circumcision and the giving ten percent of their income to God and even taking the Sabbath rest from work. All of these were ways to end worship of the false gods, which included sex, money, possessions, work, and the self.
3. Second, sacrifices were a means to offer something significant to God. When a person or a family sacrificed an animal, it had to be the best animal they had, one with no defects. When they paid their tithe, their ten percent from their crops or produce, it had to be the best 10 percent. When they paid money, it had to be paid first, not paid from what was left over. In this practical manner, they would be putting the true God first.
4. Third, although they did not know it at the time, the sacrifices prefigured the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. The sacrifices were a symbolic means of connecting with the saving act of Jesus Christ. They were meant to prepare the people’s hearts for the Passion of Christ.
5. Although these sacrifices were supposed to help people commit themselves more closely to God, problems developed. People would offer sacrifices which were insignificant or defective in quality. The prophet Malachi noted that people would offer a blind or lame animal, instead of a healthy one. These substandard sacrifices demonstrated that they did really view God as all that important. The prophet Hosea remarked that some indeed would offer sacrifices, but they did so in an empty or meaningless manner, and would fail to change inside. For example, they would go to synagogue or Temple and say the prayers, but the rest of the week they served money, or sought after pleasure. Or maybe they would close their hearts when strangers moved to town with slightly different customs or language or food, even when they were the same religion and even related to one another.
6. Unfortunately, even with the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus, these sins persist. Oh how often do we think of ourselves first and God sometime later. We consider ourselves good Catholics and yet give God not much time in prayer, or give His Church not much of an offering of the money or other treasures we have received at His hands. Or we praise God one moment and the next use the same lips and tongue to use foul or insulting words. We come to Mass but really serve other gods, which might be ourselves.
7. Everyone in our parish is our brother and sister in the Lord. We have been baptized in the same Holy Water with the same words. We were anointed with the same Holy Spirit. In Communion, we receive the same Body and Blood of the same Jesus Christ. We call on the same God and Father in the midst of the Church. Yet it is a particular sorrow that we do not always treat one another as brothers and sisters in the Lord. People are excluded or looked down upon because they are from a different family, or they are a different color, or they speak a different language or have a different accent, or they have a different size of family, or they just have a different opinion than we do. And so we cut them off.
8. Maybe we do not always realize that we are pushing our brothers and sisters out. I take that back, when we fail to welcome, when we fail to share, when we go through the motions of Christianity and yet remain self-centered, willful, or rude we push ourselves out.
9. But that is not what the Lord wants. Not just that God does not want us to close ourselves off from one another. Yes, Jesus wants us to love one another. But even further than that, the Lord wants to give us mercy. That is the whole point of His sacrifice on the Cross- to save us from a death which we richly deserve and bring us into His kingdom of peace which we cannot earn on our own. Consider the story of Saint Matthew- he was a tax collector who probably cheated people and who had other bad people as his friends. But Jesus called him and even went to his house to eat and meet his people. What grieved Jesus was that the scribes and Pharisees who complained were not there with Him also. Jesus wanted to give Matthew and His friends His mercy. Jesus wanted to give those who complained mercy. Jesus wants to give us His mercy. But the only way we can truly receive it is to give it to someone else.
10. I read yesterday that the right path is to choose sacrifice for ourselves and mercy for others. That is the path Jesus Christ chose. If we do the same, we will be like Him.