[Jesus said,] “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
The Pharisees were liberal in their view of who could have God’s presence, says Hebrew University Historian Daniel Schwartz.  There was no debate among Jewish scholars in Jesus’ day that Israel had broken God’s covenant with them. The key question of their time was how the covenant could be restored — and the answer extended from theology into the reality of everyday life.
The Sadducees believed God’s presence could only reside in a certain kind of person: those born of the proper lineage and actively participating in Temple life in Jerusalem. This was a significant problem for most ancient Jews as they were spread throughout the Near East. Moving was almost always an unthinkable risk since land was life in an agrarian society. The Pharisees grew in power because they offered Jews outside of Jerusalem an alternative. In short, they believed keeping the law was the way a person’s standing with God was restored. They were fastidious about the law because it was their only hope.
The Pharisees and Sadducees each crafted a way for a person to restore their relationship with God through their own volition. The Sadducees wanted people to give up on their cities, neighborhoods, and vocations, believing God’s plan was limited to a particular culture and place. The Pharisees looked at their Scriptures like a rulebook, missing—in Jesus’ opinion—the entire point of the Scriptures.
“Go and learn” is a rabbinic phrase which means the hearer has missed something in the Scriptures and needs to study with greater attention. Jesus wasn’t a sage who commanded his followers to study the laws and do their best to conduct flawless lives. Any prophet could have done that. Jesus’ foundational claim was that he was the Son of God who came to extend God’s mercy to the world. Restoration was possible through him.
Thank you, Father, for extending your mercy to us. Thank you that your love isn’t limited to those who obey best, or are born to the right family, or live in a particular culture. Guide us to read Scripture in such a way that leads us to be dependent on you and not on our own strength. Help us to extend your mercy to those around us in ways that lead them to you.
This Week: Anger and Forgiveness, Miracles and Mercy
Part 5 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org
 See Daniel Schwartz’ discussion on requirements for God’s presence inside Jewish Movements of the New Testament Period in The Jewish Annotated Study Bible, pp.526-530. Oxford University Press, 2011.