“Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, [the Pharisees] asked him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ [Jesus] 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? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’” Matthew 12: 10-12
In Matthew 12, Jesus and his friends enter the synagogue (their place of worship), where the Pharisees (or religious leaders) were looking for any and every opportunity to discredit Jesus and His ministry.
As Jesus encounters a man with a shriveled hand, the Pharisees ask Him if it’s lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Bible Reference helps give context to the trap the Pharisees were setting for Jesus:
“Their presumed answer [to healing on the Sabbath] was “no.” Their group of Pharisees had come up with a list of 39 things that qualified as forbidden work on the Sabbath in order to keep the fourth commandment found in Exodus, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Exodus 20:8–10).”
Yet Jesus is not bothered by their response. Instead, He turns it back on them and asks them to consider the value of a person made in God’s image, saying if it is in the name of helping someone, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.
The Pharisee’s long list of rules kept them wrapped up in tradition and missing God’s heart. As spiritual leaders, they should have been helping people know and follow God, but they traded their responsibility to care for others for rules and regulations. They burdened themselves and others, keeping everyone from God’s best for them.
Today, we can also fall victim to a similar trap. Do we find ourselves caring more about people’s behavior than their hearts? Are we missing Jesus because we’re too focused on the rules or the structure of things? Are we quick to anger and judgment or mercy and love?
The tragedy of the Pharisees is that they spent their lives thinking they were doing the right thing, and yet they missed God completely, to the point that they killed the Son He so graciously sent to earth. I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t want to miss Him for the sake of checking the most boxes or being seen as “righteous” in the eyes of others.
I pray that as we think through the questions above, God would convict our hearts and help us to ask for His forgiveness when we’ve valued sacrifice and regulations more than we’ve valued love and mercy. In Jesus, we get to receive forgiveness and turn a different way, walking with Jesus and learning how to be more like Him.