Working on the Sabbath

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him and his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath, and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus gives a lot of little, but important statements in this story. The overall message, I think, is this: It is more important to be healthy than to follow the Law. (Or, for many, it is more important to provide food for your family to eat than to follow the Law.) The Law is just not as important as your life, especially when God has provided food for you to eat, or a way to get food to eat. But the way Jesus justifies that, THAT’S the real eye opener.

First He says, the Priests work on the Sabbath, and that’s isn’t sin. But, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus says right to the Pharisees faces that He is holier than the temple! He is essentially declaring Himself the Son of God, in case you didn’t get the message in the last chapter. But, more importantly for us, He is saying that it is more important to spend time with Jesus than to follow the Law. The disciples wouldn’t have had to pick the grains on the Sabbath if they had been working the rest of the week. And they weren’t working during the week because they were spending time with, and learning from, Jesus. And Jesus says that is right and good!

Our efforts to follow this rule or that rule can often keep us from spending truly meaningful time with God. I know I’m guilty of that! I say to myself, “look, I’m reading the Bible every day now, so I don’t have time to pray.” Well that doesn’t make sense, does it? But it’s easy to do that with ANY “rule”. To give yourself a quota to fill and be more concerned with THAT than with spending quality time with Christ. It’s just something to keep in mind.

Then, Jesus tells the Pharisees to think on the words, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” which don’t seem to have anything to do with the Sabbath. But what I think it means, is that God doesn’t want the offerings of the sacrifices we make when we follow the Law nearly as much as He wants us to show mercy to others. He showed us mercy, so we aught to show mercy to others. And the Pharisees weren’t doing that! Especially on this occasion, they weren’t showing mercy to the disciples who they perceived to be breaking the Law.

Finally, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” I think that speaks for itself. Sheesh, no wonder the Pharisees had Jesus tried for blasphemy. That’s a bold statement indeed.

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