Jesus was challenged when he ate with tax collectors and sinners. The religious leaders were offended that he preferred their company. They challenged his teachings and questioned his judgments and criticized his followers. They called him “a friend of tax-collectors and sinners.” They didn’t mean that in a nice way. In Chapter 9, Jesus sent them away from his celebration party at Matthew’s house with his tax collector and sinner friends saying, “go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” We know that they failed to learn that lesson because in chapter 12, when they condemn Jesus’ disciples for picking and eating corn on the Sabbath, Jesus says to them in verse 7, “And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.”

Jesus is quoting from Hosea 6:6. It says, “For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”

Jesus had given the religious leaders a homework assignment but they didn’t do it. Thus, he points out that they were still making the same mistake that they made before because they failed to understand Hosea 6:6. The prophet Hosea had criticized the people of God for their hypocrisy. They had correctly practiced the religious rituals and sacrifices of the law of Moses, but they missed the greater intent of the law.

The religious leaders knew the law, but they did not know God. They held a strict line on religious observances, but they did not care about others. Mercy is God’s primary work in the hearts of sinful men. It’s how he works with us, and this is clearly demonstrated on the cross of Calvary. Since it is the way he deals with us, it is the way he wishes for us to deal with each other.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Matthew 11:15