Mercy

One of God’s primary objectives in sending his son Jesus to live on earth was to give his people a chance to see him face to face and understand what he was really like. For hundreds of years the Jews had been performing rituals to try and make themselves more like God, but they had completely missed the point of why they were doing it: so they could have a personal relationship with the God who created them. In addition to performing many miracles, Jesus did other things that provided evidence to the Jews that he was equal with God. In particular, Jesus showed them that he was Lord over everything in creation, including the demons that possessed his people (Luke 4:35). The religious leaders known as the Pharisees often criticized Jesus because he didn’t follow their rules and were offended because Jesus refused to stop performing miracles on the sabbath, a day in which they claimed no activity that could be considered work, including carrying your bed across town (Mark 2:11), could take place.

In order to demonstrate that he was Lord even of the sabbath, it says in Matthew 12:1, “At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were a hungred and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.” The Greek word translated hungred, peinao (pi – nah’ – o) is derived from the root word peno, which means to toil or work for daily subsistence (3993). Jesus’ disciples were starving and literally had no food available to them besides the corn in the field they were walking through. Rather than seeing that Jesus was taking care of the needs of his disciples, when the Pharisees saw what he was doing, “they said unto him, “Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day” (Matthew 12:2). Jesus explained to the Pharisees that his disciples were not breaking the sabbath because they were doing what was necessary to sustain their lives. As an example, Jesus asked them, “What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out?” (Matthew 12:11).

Jesus’ rhetorical question was intended to show the Pharisees the absurdity of their remark that Jesus’ disciples were breaking the law by pulling ears of corn from the stalks as they walked through the corn field. In order to convict them of their own sin, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless” (Matthew 12:7). In other words, Jesus was stating that the Pharisees were misrepresenting God by condemning the innocent according to his laws. Jesus’ quoted the prophet Hosea who was told by God to, “Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and children of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the LORD” (Hosea 1:2). The central theme of Hosea’s prophecy was God’s mercy and his enduring love for his people in spite of their infidelity to him. After drawing the Pharisees attention to God’s mercy, Jesus went into their synagogue and healed a man with a withered hand (Matthew 12:13). As a result, it says in Matthew 12:14, “Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him.”

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