Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:1 (Holman) “At that time Jesus passed through the grainfields on
the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick
and eat some heads of grain.”
The 12 were hungry. They had forsaken jobs, left gainful employment behind, renounced all for Jesus, and had what to show for it? Poverty and hunger.
Jesus was so poor that He was unable to feed His disciples. He could have performed miracles, but the 12 had to learn to trust Him in life’s regular routines.
We are to serve Jesus in the ordinary course of life. We should not require a steady diet of the spectacular. Some seem willing to serve Jesus only as long as they go from one mountaintop experience to another. God has to keep exciting and entertaining them. Their spirituality works only if sustained by adrenalin.
Miracles are not for show, not common place, not available on demand. They are rare, extraordinary events performed by God to meet human needs when no other help is in reach. If normal provision is available, self-help is expected.
The 12 were hungry because they were following Jesus; no health and wealth theology here. Poverty is not a sign we are unloved or forsaken by God.
It always costs to follow the Lord. There are sacrifices to make. What have you and I consciously sacrificed for Jesus lately? Money, time, energy, praise from others? When did we last say “ouch!” over anything we did to please God?
The 12 were hungry. Fortunately, an unnamed farmer was obedient to God, who through His written Word, the Bible, had made special, loving provision for hungry travelers. In Israel the poor and travelers were to be shown hospitality.
“When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck heads of grain with your hand, but you must not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain” (DT 23:25 Holman). God’s law was generous and reasonable. The poor and tired were to be given food, yet landowners were not to be taken advantage of. People could eat in a farmer’s field, but not carry food from the field.
God has always required His people to be hospitable, to be neighborly. Throughout Scripture, God commands small kindnesses. These kindness laws continue to influence Western culture. This is well illustrated in Scotland, where people enjoy the kindness law of being allowed to roam freely. You can build a fence around your property in Scotland, but can’t use it to keep people out. They can walk in your fields, or enjoy up close the beauty of your flower gardens. You can keep them out of your house, but the land’s beauty and bounty belong to all.
From the first, God intended for people to live in a paradise. He created us in Eden, designing for us a utopia to live in. God still wants each family, society, neighborhood, and community to be a Heaven on Earth, a safe haven of refuge.
In Israel, among God’s people, extra care was given to those often forgotten and overlooked: widows, orphans, foreign residents (DT 10:18-19), elderly (“Rise up before the hoary head” LV 19:32), poor (PR 14:21), blind and deaf (LV 19:14).
These found life hard elsewhere, but this was not to be the case in Israel. They were to be treated by believers as royalty, as God’s precious, special people.
The 12 were beneficiaries of a believer who took seriously God’s charge to be neighborly. The nameless farmer of our text deserves to be imitated by us.
Christ-followers are to love our neighbors. Are we known as the friendliest and most helpful residents on our street? Do we throw newspapers closer to the door? Are we the first to greet and welcome new move-ins? Do we keep our yard trim and beautiful as a gift to our neighbors? Ruth plants lovely flowers as a benediction for our cull-de-sac. Do we wave at every car or person passing us as a statement we value them and deem them important? Another word for kindness laws is manners, practical everyday habits we learn to enact God’s kindness laws.
People travel the world over seeking some place to serve God, and then return home to find it. It is appropriate to travel to the other side of our city, to our state, nation, and world. We also need to be neighborly at home. Always have our Heaven with us. Wherever we are, be a benediction, convey the smile of God.
Volunteer to help widows, orphans, and foreign residents. Honor the aged. Remember the poor. Minister to the blind, deaf, and handicapped. While waiting for a stellar, dramatic moment to be heroic in, be a champion in a quiet place now.
Matt. 12:2a “But when the Pharisees saw it,. . .”
There are always people who suck poison out of honey. Stringent, legalistic Pharisees were dogging Jesus’ steps, gunning for Him, looking for trouble. With mean, hateful dispositions, they were spies whose intentions were not honorable.
Cruel, harsh religion is one of the worst scourges on our planet. Without kindness, all else about faith is vain. Their looking for faults proves they lacked love. Rather than condemn, why not lovingly give them food to ease their hunger?
In the Pharisees’ eyes, Jesus had let His disciples commit a dreadful crime. To the legalists, plucking grain was reaping, rubbing was threshing, blowing away chaff was winnowing, combining these three acts constituted preparing a meal. These four activities were forbidden on the Sabbath, according to the Pharisees.
Sabbath Day observance began at God’s command. He gave it to rest and bless people, but the Pharisees turned it into a burden. People feared to breathe on the Sabbath, feeling they couldn’t lift a finger without making conscience tremble.
On Sabbath, no one carried anything. False teeth and artificial limbs could not be worn. You could not throw an object into the air with one hand and catch it with the other. If Sabbath began as you were holding food, it had to be dropped instantly. Clothes could be worn, but not carried. A shawl could not be carried from one room to another, but could be put on, worn, and taken to the other room.
You couldn’t light a fire, cook, draw water, buy, or sell. A tailor could not carry a needle in his robe, lest he be tempted to work. A woman was forbidden to look at a mirror, lest she see a gray or facial hair and be tempted to pluck it out.
Eggs laid on Sabbath usually could not be eaten, because laying involved work for a hen. If Sabbath began as you arrived home with your donkey loaded down, debate raged as to whether you should unload it, thereby making yourself work, or leave the donkey loaded, thereby making him work and break Sabbath?
You could walk only 1,000 steps. You couldn’t bathe, lest water spill onto the floor and do the work of cleaning it. Was spit work? Depended on where it landed. If on rock, no problem, but if on dirt, your foot might accidently push on it and make a slight furrow in the ground; this would be plowing, thus disallowed.
With religion having been reduced to spitting right, it’s no wonder Jesus talked about rest (11:28-30). Sabbath, intended by God to be a weekly day of rest for us, had been twisted into a day more burdensome than the six days of work.
What went wrong in Israel? Over a period of centuries they developed a system wherein human opinions were deemed as binding as God’s laws. Their troubles were represented in the two most powerful religious groups of Jesus’ day.
The Sadducees were susceptible to over-rating human precepts because they disrespected Scripture by subtracting from it. Accepting only the first five books of the Old Testament, the writings of Moses, the Sadducees left out huge portions of the Bible, neglecting the parts they did not like. Their neglect of God’s Word left a vacuum which teachings of men, especially their own, were allowed to fill.
At the other extreme were Pharisees, who disrespected Scripture by adding to it. They elevated their interpretations of it to equality with God’s Word. Often legalists get angrier if their petty rules are broken than if God’s law is disobeyed.
Bible interpretation is helpful and needed. We have to apply teachings and principles of Scripture to today’s issues. Trouble comes when we try to make our interpretations binding on others, if we elevate our views to equality with God’s.
Jesus never violated a command of Scripture. He treated it as sacred. We should too. Jesus locked horns with Sadducees and Pharisees, who subtracted from, and added to, Scripture. These two groups still represent the two extremes God’s people are ever in danger of. We must guard against taking away from the Bible. Every word of it is to be accepted and obeyed. We must avoid adding to it, and not accept as infallible the manmade, unauthorized regulations of legalists.