Day Sixteen: Monday, June 29th, 2020
Bible Lesson: Matthew 12:1-21
Reflection from Pastor Wayne Eberly:
“Mercy, not sacrifice”
Once again, the Old Testament helps us gain a better understanding of Matthew’s gospel. The actions of the disciples lead the Pharisees to challenge Jesus with allowing unlawful behavior on the Sabbath. Seeking to assert his authority over the Sabbath, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath,” Jesus answers the challenge of the Pharisees with a challenge of his own, to learn the meaning of these words, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament prophet Hosea, chapter 6, and verse 6.
If those words from Hosea sound familiar, it is because Jesus has already turned to the prophet when he was called to account for eating with tax collectors and sinners in chapter 9. Using the exact same passage, Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’” (Matthew 9:13)
Using an Old Testament passage twice is not unprecedented in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew uses another passage two times. The other passage is Leviticus 19:18, where we read the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The importance of the command to love our neighbor alerts us to the importance of the passage from Hosea, which in my reading is the only other passage referred to twice.
In our interactions with other people, particularly ones the religious leaders look down on, ones labeled as “Tax collectors and sinners,” Jesus calls for mercy, not sacrifice. When practicing God’s central command of observing the Sabbath, Jesus calls for mercy, not sacrifice. We have to be careful with the Sabbath, because we could easily set the Sabbath aside and say it is legalistic and outdated and it does not fit with the freedom we have in Christ. The numerous examples of Jesus observing the Sabbath serve to let us know we are not to cast the Sabbath aside.
And yet we learn much from the way Jesus observed the Sabbath. Jesus links Sabbath observance with mercy. Could it be that a people who carefully observe the Sabbath discover that God is shaping within them hearts that are merciful, hearts that learn to trust God completely, hearts that revel in and relish the delight of having time set aside to give ourselves wholly to the one who gave himself wholly for us? And if that is true, doesn’t it make sense that we who have been loved so completely and so deeply would in turn develop a deep love and concern for our fellow human beings, for the needs of ones who are also created in the image of our good and giving God?
Here are two things you might explore.
- Read Genesis 2:1-3. On the first seventh day, the seventh day of Creation, God rested. God not only rested, God blessed the seventh day. If the Sabbath day is a day blessed by God, how does Jesus seek to extend the Sabbath blessing to others?
- Sabbath observance is built into the fabric of Israel’s covenant with God. The command to observe the Sabbath receives mention both in Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15. There is a slight variation between the commandments as they are listed. The Exodus passage links Sabbath observance to God’s wonderful work creating the heavens and the earth. In Deuteronomy our Sabbath observance causes us to remember that we were once slaves in Egypt who never had anyone concerned enough to give us a day of rest. Now our Deliverer graciously grants us a day of rest. And whether the motivation for Sabbath observance is God’s good creation or God’s gracious act of deliverance, one of the ways Israel was called to observe Sabbath was by showing concern for others who were less fortunate, even vulnerable, their servants, and yes, the aliens and foreigners who lived among them.
With those thoughts to guide us, let us seek to understand what it means that God loves mercy, not sacrifice.
“The words of Jesus have irony: ‘So it is biblical on the Sabbath day to do the right thing.’ God’s purposes in giving the Sabbath command were for the good of human beings, to give them a rest, to contribute to their physical and spiritual health, to give people time to ‘be’ and not just ‘do,’ and then to give them time for worship, which is the world’s most wholesome reality. ‘It is biblical to do good on the Sabbath.’ The fact that the Pharisees have to be told this shows the pit into which they have fallen.” (Bruner, The Christbook, p. 452)