Scripture Reading: Matthew 12:1-32 (NRSV)
What rules are okay to break and when is it okay to break them?
A lot of the time, this is what we want to know when you get down to it. As I am raising two teenagers, I find that they want to know how much leniency will be shown. If they do get into trouble, what is the penalty?
I suppose at some level, we all want to know whether or not it is worth it to break the rule.
Are the benefits (to breaking the rule) greater than the cost?
Jesus begins this chapter with breaking the laws about work on the Sabbath. It starts out with his disciples picking grain and then Jesus cures a man with a withered hand in the synagogue. He does so to make a point about priorities.
We see the juxtaposition of Jesus and the Pharisees who both seek to teach the people about the observance of God’s law. Jesus is offering life and the Pharisees conspire in death.
They even try to excuse the miraculous healing of Jesus by declaring that his power comes from the devil. Their slander looks foolish in comparison because Jesus is healing people who are broken. Why would an evil being provide life, goodness and wholeness?
Their attempt to paint Jesus in a bad light stems from his breaking their interpretation of Sabbath rules. He’s making their interpretation look bad.
Then we see Jesus providing his own rules for what you shouldn’t do when he declares that speaking against the Holy Spirit is unforgiveable. For the rule-oriented among us, this has caused more than a little stress. What if I speak against the Holy Spirit accidentally or unknowingly? What if I slip up in a moment of weakness? And exactly how do you do this in the first place (so I know exactly what not to do)?
I think we can all calm down when we read this in context. Jesus is declaring this as a contrast to what is getting the Pharisees up in arms – breaking the Sabbath laws. Jesus quotes from Hosea for the second time in Matthew reminding us of the priority of God. This should tell us something about where our own behavior needs to focus if Jesus is emphasizing this verse on mercy.
The Pharisees don’t seem to care if their strict observance hurts people as verse seven points out their condemnation of the guiltless. Jesus is healing through the Holy Spirit. If they are slandering the giving of life, they are the ones in need of forgiveness rather than Jesus. This reminds us that providing life and wholeness to people is larger than our rules.
Where is a place in your life when the rules worked against you?
Which laws of God do you find yourself prioritizing?
Do these match up with this text today?
Prayer for the day:
God, we want to do the right thing.
We want others to know and follow what is just as well.
We believe that we should help people walk with you in righteousness.
And we also acknowledge that there are times when we haven’t maintained our own walk.
Help us to be sure we are following in the path just as we invite others to walk with us.
In this way, we see that you are smiling at us.
Photo by Leticia Bertin via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.