The commands of God are wonderful. They guide our lives and bring healing to our souls. People, however, sometimes have the bad habit of making these commands a little less enjoyable than they should be. Once the disciples were following Jesus on the Sabbath. Which is a good thing. And the Sabbath is a good thing – God commanding a day out of the week to rest is an act of love. Who wants to see a bunch of burnt-out believers? Not God. Wonderful command. However, I suspect it didn’t feel that way when some Pharisees shouted out something like “Hey Jesus, you better go find some better disciples. These guys don’t know how to follow the rules” (My paraphrase – see Matthew 12:2). What was their crime? The hungry disciples were picking some grain and eating it as they walked behind the Savior.
I guess if you take an extreme view of Exodus 34:21 the Pharisees are technically right. It does say rest even during harvest on the Sabbath and I guess technically the disciples are harvesting. Technically. For that they are instantly condemned by people who were in the habit of instantly condemning. But, as Jesus points out, technically David wasn’t supposed to eat the consecrated bread. When David and his men were running for their lives from Saul all there was to eat was holy bread – which “was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests” (Matthew 12:4). They were not condemned by God for this. Apparently God believes that when someone is running for their life a little extra mercy is called for. He clearly also understands that when you’re following Jesus through fields and no one invites you in for something to eat you’re going to be really hungry, and mercy instead of condemnation should rule the day.
Do you know what the Pharisees should have done if the actions of the disciples were bothering them that much? They should have invited them for supper. That would be much tastier than raw grain. But, they didn’t, because they did not understand what these words mean: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7). Do we? A stranger walks into church and hasn’t got our dress code memo. The young man is wearing a T-Shirt and ripped jeans. Who wants anything to do with that guy? He doesn’t know how to follow our rules! Someone struggling to untangle herself from the world says something inappropriate by accident. We write her off for that right? Lost cause, even though she quickly said a sincere “sorry” afterward. Might I suggest the commands of God were given to actually help people? That’s the point – to help people for this life and the next! If we don’t realize that there are times for mercy we’re going to end up doing the same thing the Pharisees did: turn a command that was meant for our good into a heavy burden. People trying to act like the Savior won’t do that. His burden is light.
Camden Avenue church of Christ