Lord, enlighten my focus. Teach me to major on the majors and to minor on the minors.
Read MATTHEW 12:1–14
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
9 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
11 He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
New International Version (NIV)
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The real test of Christian character is not only the evil that we do not do but also the good that we do.
The tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees reach a new level in Matthew 12 over the issue of Sabbath observance. The open hostility actually intensifies and leads the religious authorities to plot how they might kill this upstart rabbi (14). Sabbath observance is one of the distinguishing marks of Jews as the people of God, along with circumcision and dietary laws. By the first century, there were comprehensive regulations governing the Sabbath. By legislating on every potential circumstance, the faithful are protected from unintentional violation. Some rabbis would even contend that humans were created for the Sabbath. In the two stories of today’s reading, Jesus demonstrates the absurdity of this view.
The Pharisees charge Jesus for what he should not do on the Sabbath, but Jesus defies them. Clearly, to leave the man unhealed (9–13) owing to man-made Sabbath regulations is evil. To do good on the Sabbath by healing the man is obviously the right course of action, and biblical Sabbath laws do not forbid it. In so doing, Jesus actually keeps the Sabbath, thereby rejecting the Pharisaic view of what the Sabbath is all about.
It is easy for us to obsess over the outward expression of religion, focusing on form rather than substance. Like the Pharisees, we can fall into the trap of measuring our piety by what we do not do—kill, murder, lie and cheat—yet harboring hatred, envy and an unforgiving spirit towards others. On the next Sabbath, instead of catching up on our gardening, shopping and other errands, we could devote time to relationships that matter and to acts of kindness, as well.
What mundane, customary habits do you perform out of a sense of duty to God that may not count for very much in God’s sight?
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psa. 139:23,24).