Often when I read stories in the Bible about Jesus, I consider myself one of his disciples in the story, and I consider the Pharisees my enemies. But in reading a story in Matthew recently, I realized the reverse was true.
Matthew 12 begins with Jesus and the disciples walking through some cornfields on the Sabbath. While they were walking, they picked some corn to eat because they were hungry. Some Pharisees saw this and accused them of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus stepped in and reminded them that even King David broke into the priests’ pantry and ate “sacred” bread because his soldiers were hungry.
Point being, the Sabbath allows for acts of necessity and acts of mercy, so if you’re hungry and find yourself in a cornfield, just eat the corn.
When Jesus came to earth, he revealed the flaws in the way his people were practicing the law. They would get so bogged down in the details, they were unable to extend mercy or fill a basic need, like hunger. They would miss the overall purpose of the law—to love and worship God— and obsess over how to follow it correctly.
I love rules. If I had lived during Jesus’ time, I probably would’ve studied the law like it was my job. I would have been a Pharisee for sure because rules are comforting for me. If this is always right, and this is always wrong, my world is nice and neat and black and white. I have made up a certain list of rules for my life and for others’ lives and when someone breaks one, I judge them, and when I break one, I beat myself up about it.
These aren’t even all moral rules I’m talking about. They have to do with a general idea of how life should be done, how success should be accomplished—an expectation of the way a Christian life should go. I could write a book of rules that would stress out Emily Post.
But I wonder, if while flipping through my rules book, I miss opportunities to look up and extend mercy, to look up and see a basic need that needs to be met, to see a chance to give grace rather than a subtle look of disapproval.
The freedom Jesus offered the Pharisees in the cornfield is convicting and scary. It tells us that our rules and regulations glorify ourselves rather than God. It tells us that our rules don’t save us, and only he can. It tells us life is much less about us and our behavior, and much more about him, about his forgiveness, and about his grace.