Matthew 12:1-13

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

He left that place and entered their synagogue; a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. Matthew 12:1-13

Can you name the Ten Commandments, in order, right now? Did you know that there are two different versions of the Ten Commandments in Christianity? If you can, and if you know, my sense is that you are part of an extremely small minority of people in the Christian faith. At least that has been my experience after nearly 30 years of teaching the commandments.

I think about that whenever posting the Ten Commandments gets another 15 minutes of fame. We heard about it most recently with the Senate primary race in Alabama. The judge who refused to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments from the state judicial building – that he had placed in there in the middle of the night on July 31, 2001. Two years later, after defying a federal court order to remove it, the judge was himself removed from the bench. Today he is running for a seat in the US Senate. I don’t know the guy but I would love to ask him my two opening questions today.

We love the “idea” of the law – as long as it says and does what we think it ought to say and do. We don’t like the laws we don’t like so we ignore them. (How fast did you drive to work today?) We pay good money to create and sustain loopholes that benefit us. (Why else are lobbyists among the most highly paid people in every state capital in the country?)

Maybe I’m naïve but I believe that most laws begin from an earnest and honest desire to make something better. That is the heart of the Ten Commandments. They lay out a simple pattern of behavior that seeks to protect our relationships with God and our neighbors. They tell us, as Luther might have said, “what to do and what to leave undone” to have the best life possible.

When the letter of the law violates the spirit of the law, when the justice system codifies injustice, then the law must be tested and resisted until the law is changed.

Jesus didn’t have a problem with his disciples gleaning a little wheat on the Sabbath. He didn’t hesitate to heal a man’s hand on the Sabbath. If he did – if the Pharisees were the ones who reached out for a snack, or healed a man on the Sabbath – and Jesus sharply criticized him for it, then I might think differently about such matters. I might even agree with the judge and his granite monument. But Jesus didn’t, and I don’t. Jesus looked beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. Jesus asked, not “What do the rules say?” but “What earthly good in the real lives of real people will come about because of this?”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, in all things, help us to always put people first. Help us to always ask the crucial question – what earthly good is to come of this in the real lives of real people? Instill in us a healthy respect for the rule of law and guide all of those whose calling in the world includes managing the affairs of the legal system. In Jesus’ name. Amen.



One Response to “Matthew 12:1-13”

  1. Dave Armstrong Says:

    The love of God for us is so amazing that sometimes I have trouble getting my mind around it.

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