Focal Passage: Matthew
In the first 14 verses
of Matthew 12 we see a conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over the
interpretation of Sabbath laws.
There are two incidents
that highlight this conflict. The first is a conflict derived from his disciples
picking grain on the Sabbath.
There was common
agreement in those days that a religious leader’s disciples should be under his
control. Their breaking the Sabbath law demonstrated that Jesus condoned
breaking the law. The Mishnah, a Jewish commentary on the law, interpreted the
4th Commandment with the phrase “You shall not harvest grain on the Sabbath.”
While the original Sabbath commandment was a call for rest, the Mishnah had
moved it to a call for no work whatsoever.
Jesus offered the
Pharisees a different method of interpreting the Law. He recalled a story about
David and his soldiers being given bread that was supposed to be holy and
reserved exclusively for the priests (1 Sam 21:1-6).
An exception to the law
was made to meet the needs of these hungry soldiers. Jesus then brought up
another exception when priests “worked” on the Sabbath by sacrificing some
lambs (Num 28:9). Jesus was utilizing stories and exceptions in Scripture to
demonstrate a more flexible use of the law.
A second incident is
then recorded centering on a man who had a withered hand.
The Pharisees didn’t
really care anything about this man and his shriveled hand nor did they doubt
Jesus could heal the guy. They were trying to trap Jesus and reveal his
willingness to break the Mosaic law, thereby proving he was not a man of God.
There was no immediate danger to this man. Jesus could easily wait one day to
heal the man.
Jesus responded to
their test by offering a revolutionary interpretation of the Sabbath laws. He
said, “It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Sabbath laws had increasingly
become mired in petty details. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Jesus wanted to
liberate the Sabbath laws from this impossible straitjacket and free men to do
good on the Sabbath.
Jesus still wants to
rest and keep Sabbath holy, but he doesn’t want to do this at the expense of
avoiding doing good. Sabbath was made for man, not man for Sabbath. So Jesus
healing this man’s withered hand was not merely an exception to the law, it was
the fulfillment of it.
The Pharisees were
consumed with being correct and oblivious to doing good. When doing good is the
result of our biblical interpretation, then we will know we are correct.