The Gospel according to Matthew (12:1-8)
Jesus was going through a field of grain on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent? I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice; you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
The Apostles of Jesus were hungry and they picked heads of grain as they walk along to satisfy their hunger. As a result, the Pharisees condemned the Apostles for doing what they claimed was “unlawful” on the Sabbath. They claimed that picking heads of grain as they walked along was considered “work” and, thus, they violated the law requiring rest on the Sabbath.
Really? Did the Pharisees seriously think that the Apostles sinned by picking grain as they walked along to satisfy their hunger? Hopefully it’s not hard for us to see the absurdity and irrationality of this condemnation. The Apostles did nothing wrong but were condemned nonetheless. They were “innocent men” as Jesus points out.
Jesus responds to the irrationality of the Pharisees by reminding them of the Scripture, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” And He points out that the Apostles were wrongly condemned because the Pharisees do not understand this passage and this command from God for mercy.
The Sabbath commandment to rest was from God. But the commandment to rest was not a requirement for its own sake. This was not some legal requirement that somehow honored God just by strictly keeping it. The Sabbath rest was primarily a gift from God to humanity in that God knew we needed rest and rejuvenation. He knew we needed time each week to slow down, offer special worship to God and enjoy the company of others. But the Pharisees turned the Sabbath rest into a burden. They made it out to be a strict legalistic observance that did nothing to glorify God or refresh the human spirit.
There is a key truth we can learn from this passage, and that is that God calls us to interpret His law through the eyes of mercy. Mercy always refreshes us, lifts us up and fills us with new energy. It motivates us to worship and it fills us with hope. God’s mercy and law together rejuvenates us and refreshes us.
Action of the Day:
Reflect, today, upon how you look at God’s commands and His law. Do you see it as a legalistic and burdensome requirement? Or do you see it as a blessing of God’s mercy meant to lighten your load?