Matthew 12:11-12 – He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” NIV
Following Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees about whether it was lawful for his disciples to pick and eat a few heads of grain on the way to the synagogue, they enter the synagogue and are immediately confronted by a man with a “withered hand.” It doesn’t indicate why the hand was withered. That’s not the topic of the debate. The question that the Pharisees immediately pose to Jesus hoping to catch him doing something wrong is: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” To which Jesus answers their question with a question, and then follows with the declaration: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
The question intimated that if the Pharisees had an animal or their property in peril, they would take steps to save it… even on the Sabbath. They don’t seem to argue with his logic because they would probably take steps to save a valuable animal … even on the Sabbath. Jesus then declared that humans are much more valuable than animals, and if you would help an animal, then it is certainly lawful to help a human in need.
Jesus then went on to heal the man which really angered the Pharisees, so much so that these pious Sabbath keepers wanted to kill Him. Matthew says it like this …
Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. (Matthew 12:13-14 – NIV)
It is interesting how angry we can get when we want to be right in matters where the Bible is not clear or plainly disagrees with our opinion. These Pharisees were not interested in helping the man with the withered hand, nor were they really interested in engaging Jesus in a Scriptural conversation about what is lawful to do or not do on the Sabbath. They had their list of rules. Jesus was violating them and in their eyes encouraging others to do the same. He must go, and they weren’t talking about just putting Him out of the synagogue.
How are we sometimes sidetracked from the mission of God to engage in useless debate? How many times do we let our anger or pride get in our way of helping someone? How much damage is done to advancing the Kingdom of God because of our pride and anger? Are we able to work with other Christ-followers or even those who are not for the common good? We would do well to consider Paul’s admonition to Titus:
Titus 3:9 – But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. NIV
I recall a few years ago when our congregation was doing Faith in Action Sunday once a year where we would go out and help individuals or do community projects, and there were those who would not participate because we were working on Sunday. When I offered the compromise option of making it a Faith in Action Weekend, so that those who felt they couldn’t participate on Sunday could participate on Saturday, the planners rejected the idea because they didn’t want to tie up two days (doing good). This led to us scrapping Faith in Action Sunday and going to smaller missional projects done by interested groups. Although we still have a missional presence, I believe we lost impact and the scope of projects that we could do to share the Good News. Perhaps I should have stepped up and asked those opposed to working on Sunday to prayerfully consider this encounter of Jesus, His question, and His response: “Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”