In this text Jesus counters his opposition by quoting Hosea 6:6 which says, "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." (TNIV). The Message version, I think, puts it in a way, however, that I think is more relatable in our context, but equally as challenging. It says it like this, "I’m after love that lasts, not more religion. I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings."
Why is it that in our desire to experience God more fully… in our desire to go deeper in relationship with God… why is it that we so often think that the way to get there is by doing things like going to church more, or praying more, or joining another Bible study? Now, I would never say that any of those things are bad things. That is not what I'm saying at all. I think it is essential for us as followers of Jesus to be in prayer and connect with a church community and I certainly think we need to spend time in the Bible. In my experience, however, the way to deeper relationship with God has not come in simply doing more of these kinds of things. Deeper relationship has come, rather, in seeking out ways to live out the kind of things we often talk about in our church gatherings and Bible studies. In seeking out ways that we can be the answer to the prayers of our community. What I am really trying to go after is a life and relationship with God that is not flat. The way we articulate this in our church community is with a triangle:
When we are seeking deeper relationship with God, our tendency is to focus more intently (or solely) on the "Up" aspect of our relationship with God. Worship, prayer, Bible study, etc. But as Jesus told the Pharisees that day, "I want you to know God, not go to more prayer meetings." The reality is that our relationship with God is more than that. Jesus modeled a life for us that, yes, was directed "up" towards the father, but he also engaged deeply in relationship with the twelve… they were, as he put it, not just his servants. They were his friends. Jesus modeled for us and for all of his followers across time that our "in" relationship with each other is an essential aspect of our relationship with God. It's not just about, "me and Jesus," it is about, "WE and Jesus." We're in this thing together. Jesus also spent significant time modeling for his followers the "out" aspect of our relationship with God, where we reach out to people in need and people who are far from God. We often lift up the needs of our community in our prayers, fully expecting that God will intervene and do something. What we have to realize, however is that often the way that God does something is through people like you and me. We have to consider that if the Spirit is stirring in us in such a way that we are compelled to pray for someone in need or someone far from God that the Spirit may also be prompting us to be the one (or ones) to respond to that need. Jesus doesn't tell us just to pray for his sheep… he says, FEED THEM.
Jesus is after a, "…love that lasts, not more religion." Lord, today help me to not to settle for a flat relationship with you. Help me to experience the fulness of a relationship that is up, in, and out!