Jesus desires compassion rather than sacrifice

Floyd Rogers – Texas Gospel Volunteer, Christian writer

Matthew 12:1-7  
12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. 2 Now when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath!” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions— how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath, and yet are innocent? 6 But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means: ‘I desire compassion, rather than sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.

Matthew 12:1-7 tells us of an encounter Jesus had with the Pharisees and some scolding words they had for him. Let’s look at the context, focus on what the Pharisees said and what it reveals about their motives. Let’s also look at what this says about those who misuse God’s word to impose their own understanding onto others and see if we can find an underlying principle.

Matthew tells us the Pharisees called out Jesus because his disciples picked the heads of grain to eat on the Sabbath. The Pharisees considered this work on the Sabbath. In context, this encounter comes right after Jesus spoke of the wise being confounded by things revealed to those who are as infants. Jesus is now confronted by the “wise” people of his day. The preceding verses tell us God’s burden is light, but the Pharisees have something different in mind. They knew the law very well, but were they blind to its purpose? Let’s look a bit more at the situation.

The wise Pharisees were baffled by a religious leader allowing his followers to do something their understanding of the law told them was a violation of the law. They were also baffled by Jesus’ response. He gave examples from what was written that contradicted the burden the Pharisees were adding. He spoke of David eating “consecrated bread,” and priests who had no guilt even though their actions in the temple on the Sabbath violated the Pharisees’ understanding of the law.    

I believe there is an underlying principle here that we see throughout God’s word.  Our actions are meaningless if they only serve tradition, and they can be harmful if done for the wrong motives. Consider earlier verses in Matthew where Satan spoke of what was written in prophecy as he told Jesus to turn stones to bread or jump off a cliff, but Satan told Jesus to do these things for the wrong reasons; that is, to test God rather than serve Him. Jesus rebuked Satan for this and in Matthew 12:1-7 we see Jesus rebuking religious leaders for doing the same thing. They followed the law for the wrong reasons and imposed it on others as a burden.

The Pharisees enforced religious rituals and external acts with no regard for what was in a person’s heart.  Is this what Jesus meant by a desire for compassion rather than sacrifice?

What are your thoughts?

Also on the web: