"I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
This quote from the Old Testament comes up several times in the Gospels. Jesus says that things would be very different in the world if people understood this truth about God.
Mercy, not sacrifice ... this is what God desires.
We tend to exalt sacrifice in campus ministry. Sacrifice moves us.
We tell stories of sacrifice: the young man whose parents disowned him when he decided to be a missionary to students, the student who rides the bus for an hour to lead a Bible Study on campus, the Staffworker who sets aside great opportunities to follow Jesus.
There is something beautiful about sacrifice.
But that is not what God desires.
It's not that sacrifice is evil. God himself sacrificed himself for us, for our good and for our salvation. And through history, God has used our sacrificial systems to communicate to us truth about ourselves and about him.
But God desires mercy, not sacrifice.
One reason for this is very straightforward. If all God wanted was sacrifice, we would quickly create systems that required other people to sacrifice. Humans have a wild capacity to ask others to sacrifice. We ask children to sacrifice for our careers. We ask young soldiers to sacrifice for our safety. We ask the poor to sacrifice for our financial freedom.
And religious systems have frequently used principles of sacrifice oppressively. The hungry are asked to sacrifice because we don't harvest on the Sabbath. The sick are left sick because we don't want to dishonor the Sabbath. Sacrifice.
God desires mercy, not sacrifice because he wants us to be merciful toward others, and not sacrifice them.
The second reason God desires mercy is because he is merciful. God did not give us what we deserved. He held back. He showed mercy. Our devices and desires demanded that we be sacrificed, for the good of humanity, for our own good even (that we not be allowed to grow in our evil). But God choose to show mercy.
God wants us to be merciful because he is merciful.
Our world is full of conversation about sacrifice. In economics, people are talking about shared sacrifice. In politics, people are talking about sacrificing ego and agenda in order to compromise and work together. In the church, people are talking about sacrifical serving and sacrifical giving.
But there's very little conversation about mercy.
What would happen if the people of God decided to be merciful wherever they could, whenever they could, with whoever they could?