Matthew 12:1-14 illustrates the difficulties associated with the Pharisees’ view of keeping the Mosaic Law. The Law’s specific 613 “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” passages were not clear enough for a stubborn people. Nothing could be left to conscience or personal judgment. The hedges they built around the Law as a safeguard now became considered as laws themselves.
Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy and lack of understanding by reminding them of how David and his men actually did something that was “unlawful,” but were not condemned by the Pharisees. He further cited the work of the priests on the Sabbath to show that some things (work) could be done. Finally, Jesus cited God’s mercy toward men, declaring His disciples as “guiltless.” They were not violators.
To further illustrate their hypocrisy, Jesus enters the synagogue and poses a Sabbath question to those who were there. Presumably, those same Pharisees were present as the text says Jesus entered “their synagogue,” still being in the context of the preceding text (cf v 14).
Bringing forward a man with a withered hand, they asked Jesus if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. This was done to make an accusation against Jesus, knowing that the compassion of Jesus would compel Him to heal the man. Jesus cut to the heart of the matter, asking them what they would do if they had a sheep in distress on the Sabbath. They all knew that any owner would “work” in rescuing his sheep from a pit, so Jesus’ follow up question was to the point… ‘What is more valuable, a sheep or a man?’
Then Jesus said to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch out your hand,” and it was restored as the other. Then the Pharisees began to plot to destroy Jesus.
What I find interesting (and disturbing) is the comparative effort of work in this text. Jesus never moved, never broke a sweat. Yet, He was condemned as a Sabbath breaker for healing a man. However, if He had helped a Pharisee rescue a sheep in the heat of the day, He would have remained guiltless in their eyes! #hypocrites