Have you ever noticed that each of the four gospels has a question it is highlighting? For the gospel of Matthew, the author is asking: all of you who have power, what are you going to do with it?
Keeping that in mind, when we look at this little snippet, which is actually a quote from the prophets, Jesus is pointing out that there really are two options for most of us on most days. We can be self-righteous martyrs or we can show mercy every chance we get.
Is it all about us? Or is it about caring for our neighbors?
This is in no way meant to denigrate true sacrifice, for even Jesus gave his life in service of love.
No. The sacrifices Jesus speaks of in this passage are those that care nothing for love, but everything for showing off to make ourselves look pious, zealous, important, and noticeable. It’s honestly a form of gaslighting.
That was never what Christ was about.
God wants us instead to focus on how we might show mercy – real love – to others. Every chance we get.
This can be in simple things: like taking others into consideration in how we carry yourself, what we wear on our bodies, and how we keep our distance in the midst of a pandemic. This can also be much more complicated things: like how do we show mercy to our neighbors and take them into consideration in the voting booth.
No matter what the circumstances, Jesus’ ultimate point here is that our focus is mean to be on serving others first – not on making ourselves look good or making sure we have an overabundance.
Focus on mercy, not sacrifice.
Now go and do likewise.