July 7, 2016
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. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 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. 5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
In parts of first century Judaism (particularly the part that was leading) Jesus was dealing with some pretty dangerous fundamentalism. The leaders placed heavy religious burdens on people. The Scribes and Pharisees were an ultra conservative group who believed the Messiah would come in response to covenant faithfulness down to the nth degree. In other words, if they perfectly fulfilled the Law and all its requirements and got the nation to do the likewise, they would all be vindicated by God.
We see it most poignantly in the laws surrounding Sabbath. Today’s text and tomorrow’s gives us a good snapshot of how their reformation worked.When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
One of the deadly hallmarks of religious fundamentalism (Christian, Islamic or otherwise) is legalism. It breeds a type of hypocrisy that easily morphs into oppression and abuse. It’s all wrapped up in external image management and it wreak of self righteousness. It’s an outside-in control movement. Jesus came to do the complete opposite. He came to bring the fulfillment of the law from the inside out. Jesus is not about making people more religious but making them more truly human.He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 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.
You will remember days back when Jesus told the religious leaders to go and learn the meaning of the saying, “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” It’s coming back around today. The Law can be appropriated as a shield or a sword. The Pharisees tended to wield it as a sword, turning the sacrificial system of the Temple into a parody of it’s original purpose. It’s an over-generalization to put it this way, but Jesus came to restore true fundamentals without all of the religious fundamentalism—mercy not sacrifice.
I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
It is so tempting to villianize these religious leaders from our present day vantage point. If we look closer, we might see ourselves in them. They loved the Word of God more than life itself. They loved God, and their devotion rose to extraordinary heights. And they loved their neighbors—at least to the extent their neighbors got with their program of reform.
I think the essence of religious fundamentalism is the idea that people can control God. It carries a mentality of, “If we do this (insert religious practice or observance) then God must do this.” When people really believe this is how it works, the “if,” in “if we do this,” becomes a “must,” as in we must do this. We must do this and God must respond. See how that practically puts people in the place of God? It’s only a short step from there to killing God. See what I mean?
1. How and where have you seen religion and religious practice go bad? Think through that process.
2. Can you see vestiges of yourself in the biblical Pharisees? How are you understanding this issue of mercy over sacrifice?
3. What do you see in Jesus in today’s text that you most admire and aspire to? Anything there offend you?
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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.