Today's devotional thought: God's mercy hug...
Matthew 9:10-13, "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.””
In the culture in which Jesus finds himself, perceived sinners—such as tax collectors who were thought to be extortionists who made money by taking up taxes for Rome—were kicked to the sidelines of society. For that Jewish culture, the most intimate setting you could be in with others is at the dinner table. Eating became a part of religious expression. To eat with sinners would make Jesus unclean. Sinners were dirty, worthless, unwanted and unloved. But to Jesus, these are the very ones to whom he feels called.
When his disciples are questioned, Jesus says, "...go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’" Sacrifice was thought the greatest good in the Jewish system. Jesus says there is something greater—mercy. The religious leader's personal righteousness forbids them to eat with sinners. Jesus' perfect righteousness compels him to eat with sinners.
To walk in Jesus’ footsteps is to be compelled towards mercy, to suspend judgement to give mercy, to lower ourselves to lift others up.
Pastor Jud Wilhite shares the story of a church member named Cody Huff in his book, Uncensored Grace. Before Cody became a member at Central Christian Church in Las Vegas, he was sleeping in an open field next to the church. But at one time Cody was making loads of money as a famous bass pro fisherman who had even been featured on ESPN. Yet he couldn't overcome his problem with drugs. He began a crack addiction that led him to smoke up $600,000 worth of savings, his house, his Harley, his new boat. He smoked away everything he had and ended up homeless. A man who had eaten at fine restaurants and interacted with celebrities had bottomed out and was now homeless.
But God would turn his life around—and it all started with the mercy of a church volunteer. Some people from the church's homeless ministry were handing out sandwiches in the park where Cody slept, and they told him he could get a shower at Central Christian Church. The last place Cody wanted to go was a church, but he hadn't bathed in so long that even other homeless men couldn't stand his smell anymore. Cody explained what happened next:
"I walked into the church, and this lady named Michelle, who knew me from the homeless ministry, said, "Good morning, Cody. How are you?" Then she looked at me, and she said, "Cody, you need a hug." And I said, "Honey, you don't want to touch me because I haven't had a shower in three months." If Michelle heard me, she didn't seem to care. She walked up, and she looked in my eyes, and she gave me a big hug and told me that Jesus loved me. In that split second, I was somebody. She even remembered my name. That was the point where I knew that God was alive in this world."
Over the next several weeks, Cody's life began to be restored. He gave his life to Christ. He started leading a Bible study in the park for other homeless people. "That was over three years ago," Jud says. "Now he's married, and he and his wife serve faithfully in our homeless ministry every weekend. He has his own business. From ashes, God has raised him up to use him as an instrument." [Jud Wilhite, Uncensored Grace (Mulnomah, 2008)]
This is a picture of the mercy God desires. Who can you give mercy to today?
Prayer: Father God, we thank you that when we needed mercy we found Jesus. Though we deserved judgement he gave us forgiveness. Bring us someone today that we can show mercy to. In Jesus name, amen.