In any sport there are rules which are listed in a play book. Players need to memorize them and abide by them. The Pharisees had their rule book and to be a “righteous” Pharisee one studied it religiously! In Matthew 12 it seems that the Pharisees and their religiosity or legalism surfaces more clearly than ever before. It is almost as if they ripped out the verse from Isaiah 28:10 “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept, Line upon line, line upon line, Here a little, there a little.” As they followed Jesus through the grain field they reminded him that we must be doing things in such and such a way. They whipped out their “rule book” to discipline the disciples, but failed to discipline themselves. They may have carried their rule book around with them as judgmental sticks but failed to see the context of Isaiah’s words. Their critical spirit is abundantly clear, in fact more so than ever before in the book of Matthew and our author has captured their critical eye as well as their vociferousness. According to their “rule book,” one may only walk 2000 paces on the Sabbath which leaves us to wonder—what they were doing in the middle of the grain field on the Sabbath?
But, moving on, the crux of this chapter is heard in our Master’s words: If you had known what this means: ‘I want mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. From the grain field to the synagogue they follow our Lord. It is here, once again, that we see the lack of mercy all because Jesus spoke a word of healing…note that!!! Jesus spoke not touched the man with the withered hand…but again….*sigh* it was after all the Sabbath. Jesus asked them, where are your priorities? Is your mercy greater for an animal that has no soul but you are unwilling to show mercy to a man so in need that he can work and take care of his family? Matthew leaves no doubt in our minds as to what the Pharisees were truly seeking. They really did not care about this man, they wanted a way to assassinate the Lord of the Sabbath. They were unwilling to care for a man who thus would no longer be a burden to society but were willing to assassinate/murder Jesus. They refused to show mercy but were willing to murder. This leaves us again to wondering why? Jesus has the answer: they are blind and they are leading the blind…both will fall into the pit. Their hearts are governed by the rule book rather than the love of God.
After both of these incidents Jesus pointed to the real reason for their hatred and rejection. It lay in their heart. Jesus used the illustration of a fruit tree to capture this to the listening audience. He said: One could know one’s fruit by observing and listening to their words; For the mouth speaks from what fills the heart. And then he added this warning: you will give an account for every worthless word and by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
Out of this chapter there are several applications but one comes to mind that are applicable even now. It is my “ouch.” How often do I fail to show mercy just because it is inconvenient, it does not meet my time schedule? How often do I take verses out of context to show my reason why something should be thus and so? I have been called a “rule oriented” person! :-(Today may I demonstrate the Fruit of the Holy Spirit in showing God’s mercy and justice rather than a myriad of sacrifices, line upon line, precept upon precept, rules upon rules which are piling up on my altar thinking this is what God wants.
Thanking God for His mercies! They are new every morning…great is His faithfulness!