Matthew 12:1-8 (ESV)

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

On the Sabbath, the one day of the week that the Jewish people set aside as a day of rest, Jesus and his disciples walked through grain fields and ate from the unplucked wheat. The Pharisees were furious when they saw Jesus and his followers doing this, and they accused the group of working on the Sabbath. Jesus explained three errors in their thinking to them. First, in the time of the Old Testament, King David ate bread from the tabernacle that was reserved only for the priests. Second, the temple priests worked on the Sabbath when they offered the required sacrifices. And finally, Jesus announced himself as the Lord of the Sabbath! The third point was the real key. Although the Lord was present to a degree in the tabernacle and temple, the greatest revelation of God was right in their midst. Jesus was God in the flesh, and they didn’t recognize him. Then Jesus got to the root of their problem. The Pharisees took much pride in their knowledge of Scripture, so Jesus reminded them of what they should have known. God desires “mercy, and not sacrifice” (v. 7). The religious leaders were obsessed with the formalities of their religion, but they neglected to care for the basic needs, like hunger. Sacrifice was important, but it was never to take precedence over compassion.

As the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus had the authority to declare what could and couldn’t be done on that day. The religious leaders accused Jesus of violating the very law that he originated. Jesus demonstrated that it was right to show mercy and kindness every day. Worship was never intended to become so mechanical that the worshipper forgets the heart of God while serving him. In the Old Testament, the word that’s often translated as mercy is “hesed.” This is a rich word, and it expresses God’s steadfast love for and commitment to his children. Since God has graciously extended his mercy to his people, they should always be found showing the same compassion to others. Do you ever get so caught up in the formality of your practices that you forget to be kind to those around you? If you are a follower of Jesus, then in light of all God has done in Christ for you, pray that the Lord would enable you to be known by all as a woman full of compassion.