Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice’ – Jesus

What are you doing, helping people like that?

criminal-behind-bars-10A friend recently heard what I’m up to on the streets of Ipswich and was flabbergasted. Not that she thinks I’m doing anything wrong, to the contrary she dubbed me “Saint Kevin”, about which I have profoundly mixed feelings, but I can add it to the list of “names” that people have called me (see Titles: “Who do the crowds say I am?”, “Who do you say I am?”, “I do not accept human testimony”.)

No, she is flabbergasted because, as she puts it, she can’t understand why, “the nicest guy in the world would spend time on people like that“. It reminded me directly of a question asked about Jesus:

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

– Matt 9:10-13

Other posts in this series:

[post_list name=”Street Ministry”]

The ‘P’ word

– Warning: Abuse triggers –

To be fair, what she meant was not, “people in that community are undeserving”, nor even, “people in that community are not nice”. She was reacting to the revelation that among my friends there are convicted paedophiles. She struggled to understand how I was able to sustain those relationships.

It is truly fascinating how we all, as humans, relish the idea that there is some category of people who are “worse” than ourselves. We all do it (except, my friend suggests, for “Saint Kevin”, without any hint of sarcasm).

I told my friend how prison life is: there are two classes of prisoner, “mainstream”, and “protective custody”. Those in protective custody are there because they would be murdered if they were included in the main prison community. They are the paedophiles and the informers. It is hard to tell which is considered the worst category, but probably paedophiles are the bottom of the heap.

There’s nothing like a little righteous anger to help demonise another person, and to feel somehow slightly better about one’s self in the process.

Here’s an example: Robert Hughes in Prison

Not the worst kind of person?

My friend suggests that paedophiles are the worst kind of person. Although she may not have thought it through completely, it seems that she may think of them as unforgivable.

I told her that they are not the worst kind of person.

Now, I spend most of my time with people mopping up the emotional mess that paedophiles leave behind, so I am in no way naive about the terror, the robbery, the injustice, the trauma, the pain, and every part of the long road to healing and completeness. But this is not the worst thing a person can do.

However I am not going to enter into victim-impact comparisons between this and other crimes. Such a comparison would be meaningless. Human suffering reaches a point beyond which comparison is not valid, and sexual abuse of children is one such form of suffering. So that’s not what I’m saying. I’m not saying, “there something worse that a sufferer can suffer…”

No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that there is at least one thing worst that a perpetrator can perpetrate.

What is the worst kind of perpetrator

The worst kind of perpetrator is even more evil than the paedophile. The paedophile is stealing from a person or persons some of the most precious gifts that God has given them: their innocence, their self assurance, their wholesomeness of sexual identity, etc. (It should be said that each of these things may be “stolen” only in a sense, but has not gone. I help people to have each of these things restored to them, because they can never truly be taken away…) But this other kind of perpetrator is committing a graver crime still…

The will of God

The will of God is that we, as a community, might experience the fullness of life. God has provided life-giving reflections and narratives, guides and helps, so that hope and light and healing and forgiveness might be integral parts of our experience of human community. God intends that this helps us to grow to know Him.

The worst crime

The very worst crime is the one which is opposed directly to the will and purposes of God.

There are those who seek to create communities in which harm is a way of life, communities like child pornography rings, human trafficking, criminal gangs, militants who recruit child soldiers, and so forth. These people are creating communities in which paedophiles and other predators are manufactured. There are whole subcultures like these which have as their central wisdom, techniques for turning an impressionable woman into a crack whore, a man into a dependent junkie, an innocent child into a killer, and so forth. These communities are factories turning out paedophiles and other predators.

The people who create and lead such communities are the very worst of enemies of humanity and of God. Anyone unfortunate enough to be preyed upon by such a community will have the goodness of God actively obscured from their perception, and this is the opposite of the will of God.

I plan to meet with such people one day, and to confront them to reverse their evil ways. I’m not up to that just yet. My journey has only just begun, but I plan to capture their attention one of these days.

The nicest guy in the world?

My friend employs a superlative to reinforce her point, “the nicest guy in the world”, but it was an opportune expression for my response. I replied, “This is the story of the Bible: The nicest guy in the world spent time with people who were despised and rejected… I’m just doing likewise.”

We are all the same

There are some folks who think hanging around with alcoholics is unthinkable. I know alcoholics who think hanging around with junkies is unthinkable. I know junkies who think hanging around murderers is unthinkable, and I know murderers who think hanging around paedophiles and informers is unthinkable.

Here’s the rub: I know paedophiles who think that hanging around junkies is unthinkable…

As I tell my friends on the street, on some level we are all the same. Each of us was born an innocent baby. Had I been born into their situation, I likely would have made poor choices in life too. Had they been born with my privilege, loving family, education, and so forth, they likely would have been successful in life. This does not excuse the bad choices, but it affirms the humanity of the person at the centre of them.

As I often tell my friends, staring deep into their eyes, “I can see something written on the back of your eyeball in there… it says, ‘lovingly built by God’.”

What shall we do with them?

As we talked about paedophiles being murdered in prison, my friend indicated that there was some kind of “justice” in that. You see, we can send a paedophile to prison for ten years, but prison doesn’t heal people. It doesn’t fix the problem. They mostly come out still a paedophile. I asked, “Is that what we should do with them, then? Kill them all?” Of course, she answered in the negative.

I said, “So how should we fix the person?”

She replied, “I don’t know”

I said, “I do”.

The Kingdom of God

My friends are experiencing a community in which they have the opportunity to experience true, good, free life, as God intended. This is a community which has it’s orientation not in the past, but in the future. It is a community not bound to “this corrupt generation”, and “this world”, both of which are doomed, dying, and passing away. It is a community which is bound to the future judgement, the future glory, and the majesty and victory of the Kingdom of God.

In this community the question is not “what have you done?”, but “which road are you now on?”, not “can I be forgiven?”, but “having been forgiven, what is my response?”

As they turn their eyes toward heaven and start responding to the call of the One who beckons from there, these guys start having their past sins revealed to them in stark new light. They become brutally, painfully aware of the reality of their past. But at the same time they become aware of the forgiveness that lies in their new orientation God-ward, and in that orientation they are set free from the burden of that sin, so that they can begin to address it…

The Burden of Sin

What is the burden of sin? Is it the conscience? The burning knowledge that you have harmed another human being? Sure. It’s that. But it’s more than that.

The burden of sin is that the sin controls your choices (Rom 7:16-19). Because of your past you will make certain choices, and so your future is defined by your past. This is where drug addictions come from, as well as violence, relationship breakdown, and endless other poor life-choices. They come from the burden of sin.

The ‘Jesus’ thing

Faith in Jesus Christ lifts that burden from the believer.

Now, let me say this: it hurts! There is bawling and sobbing and pain. There is also glorious filling and wholeness and relief. There is, in no uncertain terms, a new birth.

The newly born person, the “new man”, is a man oriented toward God, toward heaven, toward glory. This orientation is now what determines his life choices. He now makes healthy choices, wise choices, and good choices, based on where he is headed, not based on what he has experienced. He becomes a healer instead of a predator. He is transformed.

I’ve seen it happen.

… and that’s why “the nicest guy in the world” hangs around people like that. It’s also why I hang around the same people in the name of that guy. What was that quote again? Ah! Here it is:

And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came and were sitting with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard this, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.

– Matt 9:10-13


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3 Responses so far.

  1. Bob Phillips says:

    Very interesting reading. Thank you Kevin.

  2. Indeed each story is a grave and tragic horror and is inexcusable. I hear them constantly, and I am intimately involved in counseling and supporting victims.
    The central concern in responding to these things, in my opinion, is that we must establish *safety* for the child above all else, and then safety for all other children. This matters more than consequences for the perpetrator, but the horror of the crime often distracts us into talking about the perpetrator and almost forgetting the victim.
    But each human being has the possibility of redemption, and we mustn’t allow the horror of their actions to obscure that. The shame and disgrace of our condition did not distract Jesus from his determination to redeem us. Romans 5:8

  3. Very interesting and thought provoking read Kev – Thank You

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