Take That, Pharisees!


One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields and, as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to Him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’ He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for the priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’ Then He said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’ (Mark 2: 23-26).

What were the Pharisees doing? Trailing after Jesus to spy on Him? It seems like it.

Matthew added a cryptic comment to Mark’s version of this incident. On a previous occasion, when the Pharisees criticised Jesus for eating with the riff-raff of society, Jesus retorted, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9: 13).

Now the Pharisees were at it again. They had obviously not bothered to heed Jesus’ words. The disciples offended them because they were breaking their petty rules. Jesus had no time for nit-picking. He smartly put them in their place with the Word.

‘If you had known what these words meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.’ (Matt 12: 7-8).

Would they never learn? No one takes Jesus on and wins!

What was the issue here? That the disciples were hungry was of no consequence to the Pharisees. Far more important to them was the fact that it was the Sabbath and they had rules about the Sabbath that had to be adhered to, no matter what. So what if these men were hungry? Sabbath was Sabbath and the day took precedence over their need, so the Pharisees insisted.

But Jesus thought otherwise. Who made the rules anyway? That was Adam’s problem, at the beginning. He swept God’s rule aside, at the devil’s insistence, and made his own rules, only to discover that his ways did not work. And the whole of history is testimony to that. Funny, isn’t it that in spite of the mess humanity has made, we still insist that our way is better? Now that’s the height of folly, doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome. Will we never learn?

What is the basis of God’s government – the one Jesus came to restore by His coming? He summarised it in one sentence: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Mercy is what He applies in all His dealings with human beings – otherwise we would not even be here. He would have obliterated the whole earth long ago if it were not for His mercy. David celebrated God’s mercy in his magnificent song of praise – Psalm 103.

The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbour His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (Psa. 103: 8-10).

That’s how God runs His government and He expects the citizens of His kingdom to do what He does. James took up David’s refrain in his letter.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2: 12-13).

The mercy that God shows extends beyond those who belong to Him. Unlike the so-called “mercy” of the god of more than a billion people, who call him “Merciful” but mercilessly kill those who do not espouse their beliefs, the one true God is “kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” Jesus instructed (Luke 6: 35b-36)

To the Pharisees, rules were more important than people. To Jesus, people took precedence over rules, especially man-made rules that did not reflect the heart of God. So let us not follow the example of the Pharisees who rigidly insisted on doing instead of being. Let’s take a leaf out of Jesus’ book. After all, He is the mirror image of the Father, and we can trust Him to show mercy. Why shouldn’t we? We have His Spirit, don’t we?

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Have you read my new book, Learning to be a Son – The Way to the Father’s Heart (copyright 2015, Partridge Publishing)? You’ll love it!

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Luella Campbell

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