Scripture Reading: Matthew 12:1-50, Leviticus 19:9-10, Isaiah 42:1-4
Recently, at a dinner with friends, I noticed the person sitting next to me skip the pork tenderloin and serve himself an extra spoonful of brussels sprouts. This made no sense to me.
“Are you a vegetarian?” I asked, hoping to avoid a pitch to join the fold. (I love meat.)
“Oh no,” he said. “I’m just taking a break. We went paleo for a long time and I kind of went overboard.”
I laughed. Sure enough, a few years ago my husband and I decided to go Paleo too. This was before the “Whole 30” eating plan was a thing. We were simply trying to do something different with our diet, and quickly learned how easy it was to make a meal out of veggies and protein. But it was also easy to use the “Paleo” rules to fill our plates with nothing but pork, bacon, and ground beef.
It’s easy to follow the rules but ignore the spirit and intent behind them.
That’s the heart of Matthew 12. At this time in history, Pharisees were a group of devout Jewish men who had tried to keep every letter of the law. Scribes, mentioned later in the passage, were essentially lawyers—men who copied and interpreted the law of Moses for the people. Both groups knew the rules inside and out. And sure enough, they were right about the rules.
In the book of Leviticus, the Lord instructs His people not to strip the farmland bare, but to leave the final portion to the poor and to immigrants. In fact, in the book of Ruth, we see Ruth, a poor, barren immigrant woman, benefitting from that compassionate law, as she gathers grain from Boaz’s field. But intent on proving Jesus to be a hypocrite, the Pharisees point out that He was breaking two laws: the harvesting laws and the laws prohibiting work on the Sabbath.
I can almost see their self-satisfied smiles as they imagine Jesus stuttering to respond. But He doesn’t miss a beat. He says He is Lord of the Sabbath because He created it (vv. 6-8). He defined rest.
And yet, the Pharisees continue to press. Entering the temple, they point to a crippled man and ask Jesus a theoretical question, as if they can stump Him with a bit of moral philosophy. In order to accuse Him, they asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (v. 9).
Are you kidding me? How prideful! How arrogant! As if they wanted to go around healing crippled people, but the Sabbath was all that was stopping them? If I were Jesus, I would have yelled, “You Pharisees couldn’t heal whether it was on the Sabbath or not! Shut your traps!”
But thankfully, Jesus is not me.
He doesn’t answer them while screaming and shouting like I would have. Instead, He exposes their hearts with a simple story that even a child could understand, making the truth abundantly clear: There is no prohibition against mercy. Only He can heal, and only He determines when to do it.
Scribes and Pharisees dole out burdens and rules and loopholes and philosophical arguments. Jesus delivers hope. May we put our trust in His name alone.
Claire Gibson is a writer whose work has been featured in publications including The Washington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine among many others. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Patrick, their son, Sam, and their dog, Winnie. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, will be published next year.