Matthew 12:
 1 At that time Jesus went through the grain fields 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 on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?  6 I tell you that one 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."

If only the Pharisees knew the verse about God desiring mercy, not sacrifice-- they were too busy listening to themselves to listen to God.  And in doing so, they ruined the song.  That which was good turned into that which condemned.

They had condemned Jesus and his band by insisting that the song be played their way.  It was more than a matter of taste or opinion.  It was more than theological correctness. 

They had made it about sacrifice and Jesus made it about mercy.  What is the difference?

A life focused on sacrifice is all about paying off your debt.  You know that it will cost you and so your delight is on a spreadsheet instead in reality.  The expression towards God is always in light of proving your statistical performance.  Think of it as being more interested in your mortgage payment but failing to live in the house you are purchasing.  Faithfully paying for the car but never driving it—what is the point? 

The Pharisees knew all the scores but were lousy players.  They held critical views of everyone else and continually dissed the ones who should be their band-mates.  Their sacrifice mindset made it impossible for them to accept the faulty performances of others.  What did they lack?

The life lived in mercy is also aware of an incalculable debt.  How could there ever be enough rams and goats sacrificed to earn a good standing with God?  The life lived in mercy understands that this immeasurable love is the only suitable response to others.  The bread of Presence is given to people simply because they are hungry in a pure-hearted way.

The Pharisaic way enslaves people to a frustrating, circular system of failure.  J.R. Briggs [i] illustrates it this way:

You are invited by Jesus to a new circular pattern.  Honor the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  Keep your day with God as His merciful gift to you.

In her book ‘Practicing Our Faith’, Dorothy C. Bass says, "The Sabbath is not a running away from problems, but the opportunity to receive grace to face them."[ii]

Karen Burton Mains says, "Observing Sabbath is like wearing an engagement ring."[iii]

The late Abraham Joshua Heschel was one of the last century’s most notable rabbis and Jewish philosophers.  With insight that supports Jesus’ view of Sabbath he wrote, "The Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; the weekdays are for the sake of Sabbath. It is not an interlude but the climax of living."[iv]

At least that is God’s intention for the day.


1.       1.  What does the Sabbath mean to you?  Have you discovered the value of it in your life?  Explain.

2.       2.   Some of you are very busy on Sunday playing music, teaching classes, running sound and so on.  You are sometimes like the Old Testament priests whose Sabbath day was a lot of work.  How can you preserve the value of Sabbath when you are busy serving God’s people?

3.       3.   How have you experienced the endless cycle of religious enslavement?  What frees you from it?

4.       4.   When does your life feel as if you are ‘noodling’-- playing too many notes in disregard for what the arrangement calls for?  When do you know that you are too busy?

[ii] Dorothy C. Bass, Practicing Our Faith, p. 83
[iii] Karen Burton Mains, Making Sunday Special, p. 163
[iv] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, p. 14