But if you had known what this means, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, you would not have condemned the guiltless.
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The faithful are more than priests. For the Lord of the temple himself has come to them. The Truth personally has arrived, not merely the image of the truth. So he could say, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here!” Nevertheless, great as the sayings were which they heard, they made no reply, for they were inattentive to the coming salvation of humanity. Then, because it might otherwise seem harsh to his hearers, Jesus quickly drew a veil over his discourse, giving it a lenient turn, yet even then conveying a sharp admonition: “If you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” Do you see once again how his speech is inclined toward leniency, yet showing the priests themselves to be in need of leniency? The Gospel of Matthew, Homily