The Intent

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”

He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’[a] you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10 and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 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 person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

13 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 12:1-14

A television show which premiered last year, All Rise, has become a show which I enjoy. The story line is about Judge Lola Carmichael, a former prosecutor, who is appointed as a judge in the Los Angeles County Superior Court. I think the reason I like the show so much is that while the character can be idealistic at times, she desires to uphold the intent of the law more than the letter of the law. She exhibits creative and compassionate ways in fulfilling the intent.

Today in our reading from the book of Matthew, we encounter Jesus attempting to educate the Pharisees on the intent of the Sabbath rules. The Pharisees are the “lawyers” of the Jewish Law. They are to understand and interpret the laws which God has given the Hebrew people through the voices of the prophets, priests, and leaders. This group of Pharisees take issue with the actions of Jesus and the disciples. They have interpreted the disciples nibbling on grain and Jesus healing the shriveled hand of a man in the synagogue as doing “work”. Since this “work” happened on the Sabbath, it is violating the Law which states that no work shall occur on the Sabbath. (See Exodus 20:10)

Jesus challenges the Pharisees on their application of the Sabbath rules. For Jesus, the purpose of the Sabbath is to make sure people are taking time to rest themselves and to focus on God. He would probably say that these two items are the intent of the law regarding the Sabbath. Doing actions which are necessary, i.e., feeding your body or saving a sheep from drowning, are not violations of the intent. Likewise, healing someone or providing for the needs of a person is not violating the intent.

The focus of Jesus is the intent of the Law, not the letter of the Law. This focus serves as a guide in our lives, how we understand Scripture, and how we apply God’s direction to us and others. Like Judge Carmichael and Jesus, we need to look at the purpose of these things. Our goal should be to ensure the intent is being followed. Striving to enact every word, dot, and crossing of t’s eliminates compassion, mercy and forgiveness.

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