1 Thessalonians 1
“Going on from that place, [Jesus] went into their synagogue, and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, [the Pharisees] asked Him, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’” —Matthew 12:9-10
Determined to bring charges against Jesus, the Pharisees strategically placed a man with a shrivelled hand on His path and posed the question, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Jesus answered, “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? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep!” (Matthew 12:10-12). Jesus turned this trap back on the Pharisees by exposing their hypocrisy: “You value the life of a sheep more than a man. Do you think mercy is more important than sacrificial rules that suffocate and kill life? Do you think that by all your sacrifice you are embodying godliness?”
Like the Pharisees, we can easily fall into that trap too. Prior to being at The Peoples Church, I was serving in a ministry called Urban Promise. About two decades ago, there was a lot of gun activity in our community and one incident that caught everybody’s attention was when a young man was gunned down in a neighbourhood. During the funeral for this young man, rival gang members came to the church, shot up the lobby and killed another young man. No longer was the gun violence out in the neighbourhood, it was in the church as well. All eyes were on the church’s response to the violence that seized the community.
At that time, Urban Promise had been working in the community for years, and we needed more space. We contacted the church where the shooting happened and started to prayerfully discern whether we could use their space for a summer camp for all the youths growing up in the community. The church opened their property to us, but when they sent the contract, I saw something that I had not seen in any other church contract: “You shall have no tobacco, no caffeine, no pork product and no fish without scales on the premises.” I thought to myself, “With all the guns, drugs and gangs in this community, you are worried about coffee and bacon?” We can get caught up with a life of sacrificial obedience and be missing the God who delights in mercy and not sacrifice. When we focus our lives on what we sacrifice, we miss out on His activity.
Jesus told the Pharisees straightforwardly, “It is lawful to do good...” (Matthew 12:12). Then he said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Stretch out your hand” (Matthew 12:13), and it became completely restored, as sound as the other one.
Lord Jesus, may I remember that life is not just about sacrificial obedience, but displaying Your mercy to those around me. Thank You, Lord.