Matthew 12 begins
1At 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. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."
It wasn't unlawful for the disciples to eat grain from someone else's field. (see Deut. 23:24,25)
Nope, it wasn't stealing that the Pharisees deemed unlawful for the Sabbath. It was the fact that they picked grain and rubbed it in their hands before eating it. Why?
In their tradition these actions "constituted reaping and threshing" which was work, and therefore, not lawful to do.
Sabbath (from sabat meaning "repose or rest") was a day God instituted for the Israelites and all animals and aliens living within their land as a sign of the children of Israel's relationship with God and a "lasting covenant" (see Exodus 31:16). It was also "an act of mercy for both man and beast, to give them needed rest each week." (Wiersbe, pg. 42) Indeed keeping the Sabbath was important enough to be included in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).
Jesus answered their charge by reminding the Pharisees of the actions of King David, the priests and words the prophet Hosea records, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice."
Indeed Jesus says if the Pharisees knew what these words meant they would not have condemned the innocent! (Mt. 12:7)
How could Jesus declare his disciples innocent when according to Tradition (the Law?), they were guilty? Appalling!
I'm sure his next words really pushed their buttons!
8"For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
What?! Is Jesus calling himself the Lord of what God instituted (the Sabbath) and gave as Law to Moses? Does Jesus get to set the rules of what does and does not violate Sabbath rest?
But wait! He doesn't stop there! Next he goes into their synagogue and meets a man with a shriveled hand.
10...Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
Since they were wanting to accuse Jesus, it seems the Traditional answer would be an emphatic "no!" At least according to the legalists' Tradition.
But as Wiersbe puts it in his commentary, "Any religious law that is contrary to mercy and the care of nature should be looked on with suspicion. God wants mercy, not religious sacrifice. He wants love, not legalism."
Jesus answered them with this:
11He 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? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."
Read that? Humans are more valuable than sheep!
And it's lawful to do good on the Sabbath which probably means it's a great idea to treat others kindly and mercifully any day of the week - holy day or not.
Jesus didn't just stop with saying those wise words, but he healed the man.
13Then 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.
Can you imagine the man there? Just happened to be in the synagogue that day probably never realizing his hand - his withered, crippled hand - was going to be healed!
My pastor often points out this man's faith. Surely over the years he'd tried to stretch out that hand, willed it to be whole, to move, to grab - all to no avail. He couldn't play ball with the kids...at least not any that involved catching. It was difficult to steady and carry a hot bowl of soup from the stove to the table. Yet, here one Saturday when told by Jesus to stretch out his hand, he did..."and it was completely restored"!
Yet not everyone can celebrate your miracle with you...are their hearts just that cold?
14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
I say legalists are just party poopers, eh? Jesus did a good deed yet they scurry away making plans about how they might rid the world of him.
What do you think about this passage? What does Jesus declaring himself "Lord of the Sabbath" mean? How do you think the Pharisees took those words? Why do you think they wanted to kill Jesus? Might he be disrupting their Tradition in a way that made them furious?
Noted quotes from The Bible Exposition Commentary, volume 1 by Warren W. Wiersbe