by Andrew Cromwell
Recently I came across a passage in the Bible where Jesus is telling off the religious leaders of the day. He described how they were inventing things for people to do to get close to God, but these things were only driving people further away from Him. They offered people a list of to dos, when they should have offered them a relationship with the right who.
Have you ever noticed that the only people Jesus really got mad at were the religious? He didn’t get mad at sinners, He encouraged them to change. He didn’t yell at His disciples when they asked Him silly questions, He explained. And He didn’t even lose it on Judas, the very one who betrayed Him. But He was always ticked at the religious teachers! Frankly, as a pastor, it makes me a little nervous.
And right in the middle of the passage, Jesus makes this very interesting statement. He’s talking about giving a designated portion of all of the money you earn to God (the Bible calls it tithing). This was something that the religious leaders were really good at. And Jesus told them, “it’s good that you do that, but don’t forget to do what is even more important.”
And then He listed three things that Jesus clearly thought were incredibly important: justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
Jesus said, go ahead and give, but don’t forget to be just. In other words, don’t forget to be honest and fair in all of your dealings. Don’t rip people off. Don’t have unequal standards. Don’t try to cheat in order to get ahead of someone else. Treat everyone with respect. Stand up for the little guy.
And don’t forget to practice mercy. Mercy forgives when forgiveness isn’t required or even deserved. It doesn’t force people to live up to an impossible standard but recognizes that everyone fails. My dad called mercy the “two scoops for free” virtue. When he was a kid, he went down to Thrifty drugstore with his brothers every Saturday. They each had fifteen cents from their dad. They’d go to the movies with ten cents and then to Thrifty for ice cream with the remaining nickel. One Saturday, they all had their ice cream and as they marched out of the store, my dad tripped and his two beautiful scoops of mint chocolate chip spilled onto the hot asphalt and began to melt. He looked to his brother Steve. There was no mercy there. He looked to his brother Mike. Nope. And then he heard a tap on the window. The cashier inside the store had seen it all. She motioned him back inside and gave him two scoops for free. Undeserved. Unpaid. That’s mercy.
And finally, Jesus said, don’t forget to practice faithfulness. Faithfulness to God and faithfulness to people. Faithfulness doesn’t quit when the going gets rough. Faithfulness says, “I’m committed for the long haul.” Faithful people are the people that make a difference in their community. They’re people who figure out how to make their marriages work. They’re the ones you love to serve with because they show up time and again.
Justice, mercy and faithfulness—they are the qualities the Jesus said we all should not neglect. And, wouldn’t you know, they’re the qualities that are often the most difficult for us to follow. All too easily, we find ourselves cutting corners for personal gain. We refuse to forgive because “they did us wrong.” And we find ourselves faithless, because we just couldn’t stick it out.
And yet when we do practice these things, our lives are sure to rise to the top. After all, I want to be around these kind of people because we know these kind are the best kind. And when we start practicing these things in our life, they make a different kind of life. A life of significance. A life that leaves a mark.
The best news of all is that Jesus loves to help people who are committed to living lives marked by these qualities. It’s good news because we all need His help if we’re going to get very far!