THE GOSPELS 71
FORMAL WORSHIP IS NO SUBSTITUTE FOR A LIFE OF SERVICE
Every once in a while there is a small obscure passage that contains great significance, but we miss it in reading the text if we do not carefully study the words and spend time thinking about them. Just such a passage is found in the incident recorded in Matthew 12:1-7. Jesus’ disciples were hungry, and, as they passed through a corn field, they plucked some ears and ate them. It was the Sabbath, and such actions were considered by the Rabbis to be work, and thus forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus recognized their action as fulfilling a human need, which, in His teaching, was more important than the technicalities of the Sabbath observance.
First, let us understand that Jesus never broke the laws of God. The Sabbath violations and other actions of Jesus, which the Jews disapproved, were a violation of interpretations which they had added to the law, and which had become law to the Jewish people, but were not given to them by God. The same is true today. There are many things, which people are required to observe in all churches, which were not commanded by God, but are the result of customs we have grown up with, and interpretations imposed by men.
Jesus answered the criticism of the Pharisees by quoting from the prophet Hosea, and He told them if they had understood Hosea they would not have objected. Hosea spoke for God when He said, “I desire mercy not sacrifice”. The passage in Hosea ends with, “…and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings”. The significance of this statement of Jesus is far reaching in its application to our worship services today, and to how we live our lives.
What Jesus is saying is that God is more interested in our being aware of and addressing human need than He is in our formal actions which we call worship. He is more interested in our recognition of His presence and the reality of His being, than anything that we do with our hands and call worship. In simple words, it means that we cannot acceptably worship God with our hands and our mouth. If our minds and our hearts are not attuned to Him, it is not worship at all. We need to be concerned with the plight of those who suffer in our daily walk, and, we need to realize and offer worship that recognizes God’s presence and what He desires, instead of what pleases us. Elaborate music and ecstatic utterances may appeal to our desire and our feelings, but we are not the ones to be pleased in worship.
In this instance, Jesus is giving us a picture of the nature of God. The Bible says that God loved the world. What does this mean? The world, in this case, means the creatures God made and placed in this world. His love is not the love of something that pleases Him or of which He is the proud possessor. It is the love of compassion and concern…the love of wanting the best for His creatures, not for Himself, but for them. This is why mercy, and being more concerned for your neighbor than you are for yourself, is so much a part of the message of Jesus Christ. He is reflecting the love of God. That is why He said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father”.
I am afraid our public worship reflects the way we live our Christian life. We create worship services which satisfy our need to feel religious and pander to our desire to be accepted by Him, but do they reflect what He wants? The answer to that is that He wants us to be concerned with human need more than pious words and religious pretense. And, He wants us to worship with the humble realization of His presence, and to do that which reflects a sincere desire to please Him and Him alone. Our daily lives should reflect the same thing. However, too many people let their time at church, when they keep the strict rituals they call worship, represent their religious life. The rest of the time, they put God in the background, and do what they want and need to do to maintain the life style they wish to live.
In summary: There are no works of sacrifice or penance which can substitute for a life of mercy and love for our fellowman. There is no formal offering or act of worship that can substitute for knowing that God is Spirit, recognizing His presence with us every hour and living accordingly.