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What are some of the cultural traditions of your church? For example, compare what people might wear to church with what a congregation looks like on the other side of the world.

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Bible passage: Matthew 12:1–14

Matthew 12

Lord of the Sabbath
 1At 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. 2When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."

 3He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He 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. 5Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? 6I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. 7If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. 8For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

 9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

 11He said to them, "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? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

 13Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. 14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).


Causing controversy
Jesus continues causing controversy by pushing the boundaries of what the religious leaders expected. Perhaps we could put ourselves into their sandals: Why do you think they didn’t want people to do any work on a Sabbath, such as harvesting grain or healing someone (vs 1,2,10; see Exodus 20:8–11)?

The original command for a day of rest was God-given; but over the centuries the religious leaders had prescribed it in minute detail, stemming from the best of intentions to help people keep the law. ‘It’s the way we do it… it’s what we’re used to.’ But they had turned what God intended as a blessing into a burden of prescription and parameters. And now Jesus was offering grace and truth rather than grim tradition.

Challenging perceived wisdom
Perhaps it shows that ‘religion’ is more about doing or not doing, trying to earn favour with God, whereas what Jesus offers is God coming to us in mercy and forgiveness (vs 7,12).

He challenged the perceived wisdom of the religious leaders then – might he need to do the same today?

Penelope Swithinbank


What would you say to someone who thinks being a Christian means being a killjoy, not enjoying life but following a list of rules and regulations? What might Jesus say to them?

Deeper Bible study

The tensions between Jesus and the Pharisees reached a new level in Matthew 12 over the issue of Sabbath observance. The open hostility was intense and it eventually led the religious authorities to plot how they might kill Jesus (v 14). Sabbath observance was one of the distinguishing marks of Jews as the people of God, along with circumcision and dietary laws. By the first century, there were comprehensive regulations governing the Sabbath; by legislating on every circumstance, the faithful were protected from breaking the laws unintentionally. Some rabbis taught that humans were created for the Sabbath. In the two stories in today’s reading, Jesus demonstrated how absurd this teaching was.

The Pharisees charged Jesus for what he should not do on the Sabbath, but Jesus demonstrated otherwise. Clearly, to leave the man unhealed (vs 9–13) when Jesus had the power and authority to heal, was to do evil. To do good on the Sabbath by healing the man was obviously the right course of action and surely the Sabbath law did not forbid it. In so doing, Jesus actually kept the Sabbath and rejected the Pharisaic view of what Sabbath observance required.

It is easy for us to pay too much attention to the outward expression of religion, focusing on form rather than substance. Like the Pharisees, we can fall into the trap of measuring our piety by what we do not do – kill, murder, lie and cheat – but yet, deep within us, we harbour hatred, envy and an unforgiving spirit towards others. On the next Sabbath, instead of catching up on our gardening, shopping and other errands, we could also devote time to nurture and care for relationships that matter most to us and to do charitable works as well.

Kar Yong Lim

Lord of the Sabbath

The Sabbath
Sabbath means ‘rest’. In its basic form the Sabbath commandment was given twice, first in Exodus 20:8–11, then in Deuteronomy 5:12–15. In Exodus, the Sabbath is a rest day in order that people might focus specially on the work of God. In Deuteronomy, it is a day to care for the needs of neighbours. 

A hedge
Pharisees took the Sabbath commandment extremely seriously. They saw it as a ‘hedge’ that protected the people against moral and religious contamination from the pagan customs of the dominant Greco-Roman culture. They strengthened this hedge by identifying 39 categories of work forbidden on the Sabbath, each with sub-categories.

A charade
So in the Pharisees’ reckoning, by picking and eating the heads of grain the disciples were guilty on four counts: reaping, threshing, winnowing and preparing a meal on the Sabbath! But Jesus rescues the Sabbath from this legalistic charade by affirming that he, not they, is its Lord (v 8). 

True purpose
As Lord of the Sabbath day, Jesus calls his audience back to first principles. By declaring that ‘it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath,’ he echoes its humanitarian purpose (see Deuteronomy 5:15). An obsession with twigs prevents the Pharisees from seeing the wood! 

Fergus MacDonald

Meeting God’s requirements

Do I have to keep the Old Testament law?
There was nothing inherently wrong in what the disciples were doing. Deuteronomy 23:25 makes provision for exactly this. The Pharisees, however, counted it as harvesting, which was forbidden on the Sabbath (see Exodus 34:21).

Jesus countered with two examples of when the law does not have to be kept to the letter. The story of what David did is in 1 Samuel 21:1–6.

The priests had to ‘work’ every Sabbath, as do pastors, nurses, doctors, the police, breakdown lorry drivers who get present day ‘donkeys’ out of present day pits, and all parents of young children. You get the point.

The law as spiritual formation
It is clear from these examples that God never intended the law to be kept in meticulous detail. Much of the law in the Old Testament is ‘case law’ (‘if x happens, do y’) and covers specific situations.

Knowing the law is a matter of transforming all of our attitudes so that we get the bigger picture of what is pleasing to God. Two things follow:

● Occasionally I will find myself in a situation where the overarching command to love my neighbour and show mercy will override the requirement to observe a specific law.

● A life pleasing to God will go way beyond just keeping commandments (see Matthew 5:17–29).

There is an old-fashioned word for preoccupation with the tiny details of the law: ‘scrupulosity’. It can become an obsession. When scrupulosity blinds us to the great commandments to love God and our neighbours, it is a sin.

A better way
The law was given to guide God’s people until Christ came (see Galatians 3:24). Now that God has poured out his Spirit on us, we can obey him from the heart.

Recommended reading
Scot McKnight’s The Blue Parakeet: rethinking how you read the Bible (Zondervan, 2008) explores this and related questions of how we read the Bible in a fresh and engaging way. Thought-provoking!

Annabel Robinson

Bible in a year

Read the Bible in a year.

Numbers 20,21

Acts 20

Kindness not sacrifice

It’s not only the religious Jews of Jesus’ time that were in danger of focusing on obedient living in a superficial way, today we can so easily miss out on God’s mercy and fail to treat other people and ourselves with grace.

Reflect on this as you listen to this version of today’s passage from The Dramatised Bible.


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The Cross has said it all – Matt Redman (from Ps 103)
Matt Redman & Martin Smith
Copyright © 1995 Thankyou Music

He is good
Kate Cooke
© 2009 Vineyard Records (UK/Eire)

  • Graham Keen | Tuesday, 06 March 2018

    Thank you Barbara for your thoughts yesterday about Jesus' yoke and the link to the song 'Share My Yoke'. It was new to me and really blessed me and reminded me to stay yoked to Him and be aware of Him in each situation, something that I am trying to do better at.

  • Enyobi Chukwunonso | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    Church tradition? Here in Nigeria, women are not allowed to wear pants (trousers) to the church, esspetially by the mainline churches (Orthodox churches). They are not allowed to wear short dresses. Most times the younger women don't understand why. But due to the advent of pentecostal churches that allow women to wear anything to church, I think I now understand why the restriction of some certain clothes in the mainline churches. Entering into the service in those pentecostal churches and seeing the kind of 'Sexy' outfit the ladies wear..., one have to be confused if it's the house of God or disco house. There are reasons for most church traditions in recent times.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    The problem arises when we write our own interpretation of the Law as the Pharisees did, thinking that plucking a grain or two was same as harvesting and rubbing the grain in their hands was same as threshing. Christian and killjoy don't go together - Satan comes to kill and Jesus has given us joy. 'You will love one and hate the other'

  • Oakley Bookworm | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    We no longer live under the heavy weight of the Law. However, for me, the key is to be respectful, firstly, to God and secondly to other worshippers. This will be expressed differently in different cultures. For example, I feel quite uncomfortable when I see a man wearing a hat in church. It is something I just cannot do myself. I recently took issue with a team of workers in my church painting one of the meeting rooms on a Sunday. The reason they gave was that it was more convenient to do it on a Sunday because they were already at Church and it didn't interfere with their other weekday plans. To my mind this was wrong and they should have not done this 'work' on a Sunday. Necessity or a kind act towards others is very different to convenience. There is a fine balance between living free of legalistic rules and allowing Sunday to degrade into 'just another day'.

  • Oakley Bookworm | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    ENJOBI, I understand where you come from. I attended a very large, thriving, Methodist church in London. It has an almost 100% black congregation. Their attitude to dress was very different. All the men, of all ages, were dressed up in suits and ties and the women were dressed in very glamorous outfits, which to my mind, were totally unsuitable for church. They had all made a huge effort to 'dress up' and it was clear that attending church was the key event of the week. It was interesting to see a different cultures take on respect before God

  • Angela Munday | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    Jesus put the conventions of the temple in their proper place and went outside to submit to baptism in a river of God's creation that is available for everyone to come just as they are......."The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith." ( Galatians 3:24 )

  • Carol Pigott | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    Yes, thank you Barbara for your comment. I have understood for YEARS that Jesus yoke being "easy" meant a comfortable, good fit, not the opposite of "difficult". But I had always pictured it as a milkmaid carrying buckets, or a single ox. A new revelation to me, that it is yoking us to Jesus, and He is beside us. Thank you.

  • Peter Oliver | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    Speaking for my self , I mainly wear a suit (Sunday best) for church on Sunday day I feel it is a testimony of respect a non Christiantold me this once other times it's jeans and t shirts.

  • Jack Russell | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    Enyobi and Oakley, I appreciate your comments today. It is a risk to say such things in a pc culture but they need to be said. Surely if we are pursuing equality, then this must mean the same standard of proprietary for men and women. But where do we have an absolute standard? The wearing of lipstick and blusher - an imitation of reddening during sexual arousal and heels that make hips stick out and tighten calf muscles are all sexual. So should we ban makeup and heels?

  • Barbara Sabin | Wednesday, 07 March 2018

    I have often heard it said 'We do not do that on a Sunday' That being - Go Shopping. Watch TV, Buy an Ice Cream , read a Sunday Newspaper to name a few. I remember when I was a child my Mother had a bath on Sunday and my Uncle told her she should not bath on Sunday that is was her inner soul which needed cleansing. I have known people who covered the TV on Sunday so they would not be tempted to watch it. My Dad was a Grocery Store Manager and he disapproved of shops opening on Sunday but if anyone knocked on our door for anything urgent e g Baby Food he would open the shop and get it. My Mother said to me on so many occasions 'Keep on the narrow path but do not get narrow minded' My Mother in Law had a reason for not shopping on Sunday, she said it was poor housekeeping to have to run to the shop on the Sabbath, a good housewife is organised and Sunday is a rest day. Nevertheless meals were cooked and dishes washed and beds made. We have to use our discernment of what is right and what is wrong .If our neighbour is hungry we have to feed him whatever day it is. Today as Christians we have to ask WWJD What would Jesus Do? Like OAKLEY I see young men in the Church wearing baseball caps I ask myself, would I prefer to see them in Church with Caps or not in Church at all. The Church I was attending had Summer and Christmas Fairs on a Sunday and I spoke out against it. I don't believe I am narrow minded I just feel that Sunday is for Worship and respect of my God who loves me so general reading and watching some TV eg Songs of Praise and Call the Midwife I am comfortable with. I am well retired and can do all the other jobs during the week. But I can remember when all the children were growing up it was often necessary to do the ironing on Sunday evenings to get all their clean clothes ready for school on Monday. In the Town where I lived many of the Roman Catholics went to the Bingo on a Sunday which I felt was wrong. The answer to this was that they had been to Mass first so it was ok to go to Bingo. My mentor said about Sunday to remember that what is needful is not sinful. What do we need to do on Sunday ?

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