Jesus once told the Pharisees to “Go and learn.” He particularly wanted them to reflect on an Old Testament passage, “I want mercy, not sacrifice” (Matt 9:13 and cited again in Matt 12:7, both quoting Hosea 6:6).
The Hosea passage in it original context reads, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6 NRSV). Here the prophet is calling to people to something deeper than just going through the motions. According to Hosea, God is seeking committed love tied to knowing God. He is seeking relational connection, not just obedience at the action level.
So how did we go from steadfast love in the Old Testament to the same text reading mercy in the New Testament? In Hosea’s text, as a further complication, steadfast love is directed toward God, but in Jesus’ citation, mercy refers to how we treat others.
Actually, the move from covenant love toward God and merciful consideration of others had already become linked in the Old Testament.
By the time of the prophets, the mistreatment of people is one of the most direct violation of covenant with God. For example, Jeremiah (in Jer 7) will scold the people for the mistreatment of each other, especially the alien, the orphan, and the widow.
This is one of the main reasons, according to Jeremiah, that God will exile his people from the Promised Land. Living in the Promised Land was one of the most important symbols of being in covenant with God. So loyalty to God is most often demonstrated in loving kindness toward other people.
Jesus certainly tied our love for God directly to our love for our neighbor.
So did the apostle John, when he wrote, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20–21 NIV).
So, today, Go and learn: God desire merciful relationships over rituals of worship.