Saints and Sinners on the Sabbath

Matthew 12:1-8

“At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSIONAND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’”

We have a change of scenery and yet still have a link to the previous passage. The phrase, “at that perfect time,” appears again but based upon the context the reader clearly sees the scene has changed. Whereas the previous time that we saw the phrase, “at that perfect time,” used, it was followed by Jesus answering. This particular passage gives us the phrase, “Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.” This is one of a thousand examples of why the context is of the utmost importance. The first time it was coupled with a response from Jesus. This time it is coupled with a new scene. Yet we have more than context to consider–remember the CAGED method. We should also see the author’s aspirations to his audience and search for examples. For instance, we have the synoptic gospels (genre) of Mark and Luke. Let’s look at Luke and his aspirations to his audience.

“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.” Luke writes to Theophilus (who ever that is) so that he will have certainty in the things he has been taught. I love it! Notice also Luke promises an “orderly account,” which at first glance seems like an account that is chronological, however that is not necessarily true. The Greek word translated as, “orderly” has nothing to do with time but more reflects on the accuracy of the account. The context of Luke confirms this, so does his second book, The Acts of the Apostles. In both books Luke will zoom in on a particular character or characters, truths, themes etc.. For instance in his gospel, he zooms in on the 12 disciples being sent out and then returning as one story, even though, based on Matthew, we know much time had passed. Another example in the book of Acts is how Luke focuses on Paul’s conversion and early ministries and then shifts focus back to events that had happened prior. The gospel of John is one of the greatest examples of zooming in on themes rather than writing chronologically. We must see that while the gospels present much of the same content, the style and system in which they were written, is up to the authors and the Holy Spirit. We must read them how they were written. Back to Matthew, who writes with the aspiration of proving Jesus as the long-awaited messiah.

In Matthew’s gospel we see the 12 disciples sent out at the end of Matthew 10, and here in Matthew 12, it appears that they have returned. How can I therefore believe that chapter 11 is one continuous event? The context. Again, I am sure that Jesus said similar sayings in several of their cities, it is in the context. Nevertheless, the precise point portrayed by Matthew in chapter 11 is most likely one of many similar stories and scenes. That is, while Matthew may have taken a scene here and a saying there and wove them together to prove his point, which he has the liberty to do, the context suggests otherwise. Either way we have the same result. People who don’t dance and the simple-minded are called.

We are now in a new scene following the same theme. While the gospels may not be perfectly chronological, they do build on their own context. Notice; “At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.”

There is no reason not to think this was the 12, but it is possible that it is not. It’s another immaterial distraction. Most likely it is the twelve but it is possible that it is not based on, you guessed it, the context. Nevertheless the majority of the context suggests that this was the 12 because eventually, without any major changes in the context, Jesus uses their names. Again, it’s not the point, Jesus and his words and his detractors are the point. The disciples of Jesus did what is unlawful, according to the Pharisees, on the Sabbath. They were hungry, the picked wheat and they ate. And the Pharisees saw this and absolutely had to draw the attention of Jesus to this heinous act. Listen to the words, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” Will you indulge me in a bit of sarcastic commentary? What are the Pharisees, 5 years old? Jesus, Jesus, your disciples stole a cookie from the cookie jar! Perhaps that’s a bit childish on my part but it is good to see their statement for what it is, an accusation of wrongdoing.

Fortunately for the believer, Jesus, who is at least 10 years younger than I am at this time, has more maturity than I have. Notice his unimpeachable answer; “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? “Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?

Once again rhetoric rears its ugly head. Actually it is quite the opposite. Jesus confronts their accusation with a rhetorical question. They were the Pharisees, of course the have read what David did. It’s also very likely that Jesus is overexaggerating by understatement. Jesus knows that the Pharisees can probably quote him the story about David and the showbread word for word. By asking if they haven’t read the story, knowing full well that they have, Jesus is pointing out their knowledge but lack of wisdom and understanding. Consider the context; “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” But I am getting ahead of myself, we’ll come back to this.

Jesus not only gives the one example of David and the showbread but also gives the example of the priests. “By two or three witnesses everything shall be confirmed,” probably filled the thoughts of the Pharisees. Jesus, obviously, does the smart thing and gives them 2 examples. “Have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?” Once again, the Pharisees can not respond. Everyone knows they have. And if they answer positively, they are ignorant. If they answer negatively, they are lying and especially ignorant. Do you see that? The rhetorical question from Jesus absolutely shuts up the accusation because there is no way for them answer, other than possibly asking, “are you David or a priest? But even the Pharisees know better than that. Jesus could have walked away victoriously at this point. But he then gives the Pharisees an explanation of his answer.

“Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? “But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. “But if you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’”

Jesus could have walked away but instead, based on the fact that he is the long-awaited messiah and must progressively portray himself as such, he says, “I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.” Jesus clearly claims that he is something special but isn’t very specific. But I am sure that the Pharisees understood what he was claiming. But if not, Jesus is going to ensure that they do. First, by way of challenging them on their understanding of the sacred scriptures. “If you had known what this means, ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”

Once again Jesus leaves them speechless. However, he is close to crossing their line of which they would tear their clothes and cry blasphemy! But according to the context, he hasn’t quite got there yet. He has the Pharisees presently pondering Hosea 6:6. While the Pharisees think about it, let’s read it. “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” For time’s sake we won’t read the entire context but I urge you to do so. It only highlights how hypocritical the Pharisees are–and scripture is a mirror. I love Hosea 6:6. When I went back to youth ministries, before I had come up with the CAGED method, and before I came up with the quote, unless you are learning for yourself, you only know what you have been taught, I had one saying, one instruction and one plea. I would tell the teenagers that I didn’t expect behavioral changes, understanding of theology or eschatology, vibrant dialogue concerning Christ and the Christian walk. I told them that I will do my best and pray and teach for them to do one thing–know God. Everything else follows this primary principle. It’s a paraphrase of Hosea 6:6. And how do we get to know God? We must read his book. And how do we read his book? Use the Caged method. Someone should have told the Pharisees about the CAGED method. All levity aside, they are a reflection of us. We memorize, read, quote but don’t know God because we are looking at it through a lens of preconceived notions. You can see my evolution in this paragraph. First I saw the hypocrisy in my own life, (another of my soundbites: the hardest thing to admit is being wrong), not truly knowing God, I only knew what I was taught and searching the scriptures for who God is. Try it, the Pharisees should have and in fact, some did. Nevertheless, most did not.

And Jesus who must testify truly to who he is, says, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Notice the conjunction, what’s its function? In your Bible this simple yet sublime sentence is probably all alone as its own paragraph. Nevertheless the conjunction ties it to the context. It is the conclusion of this particular encounter but the conflict continues in coming context. Lord willing, this is where we will pick up next time.

Until then consider the context. Jesus has declared the disciples innocent of the charges from the Pharisees that they had violated the Sabbath. Jesus has total authority to do so because he is the Lord of the Sabbath. Also notice the increasing divide between Israel and the true Israel.

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