Minute Meditations

The Illusion of ‘Sacrifice’

“Go, learn the meaning of the words, what I want is mercy, not sacrifice, knowledge of God, not burnt offerings in the temple.” —Hosea 6:6

Jesus himself quotes twice from this passage from Hosea in Matthew’s Gospel, both times to defend himself from the “holier than thou” types. Both times he precedes it with a strong imperative or plea: “Go, learn the meaning of these words,” or “If you only understood the meaning of these words.” Well, it is still important that we learn the meaning of these words because much of religion has not. If we can get this, the Gospel of the publican and the Pharisee will quickly explain itself, and you will see that Jesus was an astute teacher, centuries ahead of modern psychology. The Pharisee is the common heroic “sacrificer.” People do not realize that this gesture largely feeds the ego and one’s sense of self much more than anything else. God does not need it. You need it. Sacrifice is unconsciously an attempt to control God, who does much better without our control. Our tax collector friend has apparently “gone and learned the meaning of the words” because from a distance, with bowed head, “all he did was beat his breast and say, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’” And then Jesus delivers his stunning conclusion, still stunning today: “Believe me, this man went home from the temple justified before God, but the other did not.” I hope you have observed that Jesus is never upset at sinners! He is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners. 

“Merciful God, all I can give you, and all you ever want, is who I really am. This little woman or little man that I am now gives you back my only and true self.”

— from the book Wondrous Encounters: Scriptures for Lent

by Richard Rohr, OFM


Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr

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