Jesus’ words said to the Pharisees, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” (Mt 9:13a) opened up an argument that set the Kingdom’s priorities straight. Doing what is “right and just” is doing what is “morally right." Toward God, this means having a pure and humble heart and obeying His word and commandments (1 Sm 15:22-23 and Ps 51:18-19). Toward men, this means being fair, right, showing mercy, compassion and kindness in everything we do (Ex 18:21-22, Dt 1:16-17, Dt 16:18-20).
In a perfect world, man does both and knows in his heart that religion of the heart is more important that external or ceremonial acts of public worship or giving (Mt 23:23, Mi 6:6-8). Examples of these can be seen in the scriptures. David drew close to God, but he also pursued the financing and building of God’s holy temple. His son, Solomon, asked for God’s wisdom but also was not outdone by anyone when it came to public worship. Our Lord, Jesus, even had to drive away sellers from His Father’s house but also taught us the essence of authentic worship of the Father (Jn 4:21-24). Perfect men do both!
The truth is: your true acts of inward or personal righteousness sanctify your outward and public worship. On the contrary, outward or public worship cannot cover for a sinful heart (Prv 15:9). God values the fair, righteous and merciful treatment of our brethren more than outward ceremonious actions. Loving God from the heart and being righteous, good, compassionate and merciful to others and ourselves pleases God more than strictly keeping ceremonial practices.
Authentic worshippers should not neglect formal worship. When you face a conflict between treating a neighbor with mercy and compassion and keeping a strict duty for worship, choose mercy and compassion. Never should you prioritize ceremony or letter of the law over mercy, compassion and the spirit of the law.
In conclusion, everyone should follow all of God’s precepts to be absolutely right (Ps 119:128). Remember what Jesus taught about breaking and obeying the least of commandments (Mt 5:19). Jesus Himself taught us mercy and love by not returning evil, by loving our enemies, by expressing joy over repentant sinners and by giving from within. Follow the Lord’s priority – His love endures forever!