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I Desire Mercy and Not Baptism

There are times when love takes precedent over traditions, even traditions we deem biblical or scriptural. Jesus talked about this in the following dialogue:

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1–8

Jesus’s disciples did something that was not lawful (what we call not scriptural). Others, such as David and the priests, did the same and were guiltless. In a parallel passage, the reason he gives is that, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath…” (Mark 2:27-28).

Can we take our most honored traditions, even “scriptural” ones, and say the same thing?

I desire mercy and not ____________. ____________ was made for humankind, and not humankind for the ____________.

Since Sabbath and sacrifice were so central to their lives, what would some of our most beloved traditions look like if we were to apply the same formula? Baptism, Lord’s Supper, music, tithing, confession, etc.?

How might approaching these traditions in this way enhance them, change the way we debate them, or transform how we look at them in general? This formula may even expose how we might hold some of our traditions too tightly and depend upon them more than we do Jesus.

1 thought on “I Desire Mercy and Not Baptism”

  1. Personally, I think this challenge of Jesus forces a lot of our debates into the backseat when it comes to fellowship and unity among believers. Methods and purposes of baptism, frequency of the Lord’s Supper, and similar issues are not as important as our common faith in Jesus and commitment to following in his steps.

    Or as Paul said, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

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