“At about that time Jesus was walking through some grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, so they began breaking off some heads of grain and eating them. But some Pharisees saw them do it and protested, ‘Look, your disciples are breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath’” (Matthew 12:1-2, NLT).
Jesus and his disciples were “walking through some grainfields.” Because the disciples were hungry, they began to pluck heads of grain and eat them. They weren’t stealing, God had told farmers not to harvest the edges of their fields, so travellers and the poor could partake (see Leviticus 23:22). On any other day, no one would have questioned Jesus about what the disciples were doing. Because this was the Sabbath, however, the Pharisees accused them of breaking God’s law about not working on the day they were supposed to keep holy (see Exodus 20:8-11).
The Pharisees had separated themselves from anything non-Jewish and carefully followed both the Old Testament (Jewish Scriptures) laws and the oral traditions handed down through the centuries. They were exacting, detailing and scrupulous in their attempts to follow God’s law as well as hundreds of those traditional laws (sayings of the rabbis, which are not directly inspired by God as the Scriptures). And the worst thing was – they expected the Jews to do the same.
According to Exodus 34:21, harvesting grain was forbidden on the Sabbath, and picking the grain and rubbing it could have been interpreted as “harvesting”. But, as was often the case, the Pharisees were missing the spirit of the law and focusing on the letter. The disciples were picking the grain because they were hungry, not to harvest the grain for profit (I’m sure God would allow His hungry people to eat). The disciples were not breaking God’s law as recorded by Moses, just violating one of the Pharisees’ many rules. Obviously, the Pharisees must have been following Jesus to find an offense worthy of accusation. They expected to put Jesus on the defensive. Instead, he refuted their specific accusation and their interpretation of the Sabbath.
Think about this: The Pharisees saw themselves as guardians of God’s law, so they were quick to judge and condemn anyone who might break even a minor interpretation and tradition. Emphasizing laws and rules is called “legalism,” and it’s easy to slip into, especially if we’re trying to justify our own behaviour. In the process, we can miss what’s really important. The Pharisees tried to create a religious crisis over a few heads of grain. Soon, in the next chapter of the gospel story, we’ll see them argue about whether or not to heal someone on the Sabbath. Don’t be like the Pharisees. Be graceful like Jesus.
Nobody’s perfect, so we can always find something to criticize if we look hard enough. Jesus was perfect, yet the Pharisees thought they had caught him breaking one of the Ten Commandments. Jesus said that he didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17). Instead of condemning us for our lawbreaking, Jesus treats us with mercy and grace, giving us what we could never earn by our own efforts. Based on our merits, we wouldn’t have a chance for redemption and eternal life. The Pharisees focused on the law and missed the Saviour. Don’t be like the Pharisees. Be merciful and gracious like Jesus. Focus on Jesus and don’t miss what is really important.
Examine your own spirit of criticism or judgment of others.
Ask God to fill you with His love, mercy and grace for others.
THINK BIG. START SMALL. GO DEEP.