Jesus, as Matthew presents Him to us, was a man of mercy.
Jesus taught mercy. Matthew arranged his gospel into five teaching blocks (chapters 5-7,10,13,18,23-25). Each of these ends with a statement to the effect of when Jesus had finished saying/teaching (all) these things (7:28,11:1,13:53, 19:1,26:1), In the first part of the first teaching section, Matthew recorded Jesus pronouncing a blessing on the merciful (5:7). At the end of the last teaching block, he has a parable told by Jesus that illustrated how mercy factors into judgment (i.e., those who are merciful will receive mercy). From the beginning to the end, Matthew shows us that Jesus consistently emphasized the importance of mercy.
Matthew also shows us that Jesus modeled the mercy He taught about. Indeed, Matthew’s call to be a follower of Jesus is the result of mercy (9:13), rather than anything meritorious on Matthew’s part. Indeed, there were several reasons not to choose Matthew and Christ ignored them all. (Don’t you love that about Him?).
As He went through the towns and villages of Galilee, He proclaimed the good news and healed “every disease and sickness” because of His compassion for the people there (9:35-36). When the Pharisees accused His disciples of breaking the Sabbath law when they picked grain out of the fields and ate it, He defended them (12:1-8). He did “good” on the Sabbath by healing a man. The Pharisees were so insulted by this act of mercy that they decided to kill Him (12:9-14). Of course, it doesn’t change a thing concerning the way Jesus treats people – showing mercy was worth dying for!
Matthew has more to say about mercy in regard to Jesus than any of the other gospel writers. Only Matthew tells the parable of the servant who received mercy from his master and then failed to show it to others (18:23ff). The quote from Hosea 6:6 that Matthew records Jesus using on two occasions (“I desire mercy, not sacrifice”), is unique to his gospel. This is also true of Jesus’ teaching in 23:23, where He speaks of mercy as being one of the “more important matters” of God’s law.
There you have it—mercy is one of the more important matters of God’s law! Jesus said so! It’s not a sideline or just another item to add to the list of things to do, it is something more. It is of fundamental importance. Mercy is more than something we should do, it is something we are to be. Mercy takes on another dimension that our Father desires when it moves from being an isolated act to part of our nature. God is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), and so is Matthew’s gospel!