‘So, what are you giving up for Lent?’ I remember hearing those words for the first time when I was in college. Coming from a faith background and having practically grown up in church, I was confused upon hearing the question. I had never heard about Lent before. As I processed the question, I realized some research needed to be done.
The previous life event occurred twenty years ago. From that time until now, I have had a continual learning process about Lent. Not every denomination of faith or every believer will participate in Lent or in the practice of ‘giving up’ (sacrificing) something for forty days. This reflection is not intended to influence anyone’s perspective pertaining to Lenten practices.
However, the forty days between Ash Wednesday until the Saturday before Easter Sunday is a time when the journey of Jesus to the cross is remembered. The opportunity for followers of Christ to reflect and remember the sacrifice Jesus made for us is significant. While remembering the sacrifice God made through giving His Son for all, the discipline of self-control is focused upon by what do followers of Christ sacrifice.
The sacrificial system was created within Old Testament Law. The Hebrew people offered sacrifices to God for atonement of sin and as a way to give thanks. These sacrifices were a way of establishing a covenantal relationship with God. Over time the practice of offering sacrifices became less focused on obedience and more on obligation. Sacrifice alone misses something that we need in our relationship with God. Sacrifice without a heart/life commitment to serving God is just a procedure.
God’s desire for relationship focuses on our hearts and lives. A true, genuine commitment to God and love for our neighbors will sacrifice the desires we have. The word mercy in Hebrew (in the scripture below) refers to that: commitment to God and serving/loving our neighbors.
“For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offering.”-Hosea 6:6
The prophet Hosea’s message to the people of Israel was to repent of their disobedience to God and sacrifice their hearts back to Him. Jesus quotes this Hosea 6:6 in two passages within the New Testament.
‘On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”’ Matthew 9:12-14 (boldness added).
I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.—Matthew 12:6-9 (boldness added).
Desiring mercy is how we are called to follow Jesus–relationship with God over rituals, passion to serve over practices, and a heart for Christ over habits. May we walk with Christ remembering the journey to cross during this Lenten season and be challenged and encouraged to follow Jesus every day.
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”—Luke 9:23