Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 12:11c (Holman) . . .that fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t take
hold of it and lift it out?
Jesus and the religious leaders were in a Synagogue, having it out. We in the USA would call this a shoot-out at the O.K. corral. The religious leaders would not let the argument over Sabbath die. They wouldn’t end the debate.
Jesus also refused to budge. Our kind Savior came to help people, and would not let Sabbath remain the burden on people’s backs the Pharisees had turned it into. Jesus would not allow God’s kind weekly gift for us to be spoiled.
Jesus refused to accept any law that let a person hurt one moment longer than necessary, whether it was an emergency or not, whatever the day of the week.
Jesus’ argument here was blunt. These men who would not help a hurting person on the Sabbath were quick to claim the holy day’s sanctity did not outweigh their financial investment in a sheep. They deemed keeping Sabbath more important than relieving a person in pain, but not as important as their own five dollar bills. Their level of commitment was determined by the price of wool.
Before we too harshly and quickly judge these legalists for their callousness toward others, let’s consider how people feel about the way we treat them in our everyday lives. Do those we work with think we care less about them than about the bottom line? Do our co-laborers sense they have worth in and of themselves in our eyes, or would they say we see them as merely human means to a corporate end? Do people enjoy working for and with us?
Have our co-workers and fellow students ever heard us say we pray for them? Have we invited them to church? People matter. They are the only part of our secular jobs that will last forever. We need to act as if they count, for they do.
Matthew 12:12 “A man is worth far more than a sheep, so it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
However highly a sheep is valued, Jesus said people are “worth far more.” This was a powerful statement by Jesus regarding the value of people. In His day, lambs were valued not only as property. Being gentle and harmless, lambs were treasured and loved as pets. To say people were more valuable than sheep was significant. Jesus’ meaning was clearly understood by everyone in the Synagogue.
We in the USA now generally have a stronger affection for dogs and cats as pets. They fare better indoors than lambs do. But when our society was more rural, we too loved lambs. This memory remains lodged in our folklore.
Mary had a little dog,
who walked her through the fog.
This doesn’t sound right, does it? How about. . .
Mary had a little cat,
whose fur she loved to pat.
No, only one pet rhyme continues to capture the heart of our culture.
Mary had a little lamb,
whose fleece was white as snow,
and everywhere that Mary went,
the lamb was sure to go.
In our day, Jesus would say people are more valuable than dogs and cats, animals we dearly love. In His day, the beloved were sheep. In Israel, shepherds lived much of the year in a field among their flocks. Whereas a stranger could not tell individual sheep apart, shepherds saw differences and gave each sheep a name.
Flocks interspersed at wells. Each sheep recognized the unique call of its shepherd as he departed, and would filter from among the throng to follow him.
If a little lamb strayed too far away too often, a shepherd would break its leg, and hold it on his arm till it healed. By then the sheep’s future was more secure, for it had grown to love and trust the shepherd, and would stay near him.
The thought of a shepherd breaking a sheep’s leg in order to deepen the bond of affection gives me discomfort. Yet I have to admit the Lord does let this happen often to His children. He loves us, is jealous over us, wants to protect us, and will seek to draw us closer to Himself.
Each human is stamped with the image of God. We are His special creation, His special possession. He is the Owner and Lover of every person.
Jesus considered this paralyzed man to be His own special treasure. This man was, as it were, His pet lamb. His withered hand might be unsightly to others, but to Jesus he was beautiful. Our Savior feels the same way about us all.
We humans are not our own, nor on our own. God created us, the Son bought us, the Spirit woos us. Jesus loves and wants us, all of us, each of us.
Western culture is rooted in the spiritual truth taught in our text. Our acceptance of Jesus’ assessment of the sanctity, the infinite value, of every human life–old, young, unborn, healthy, sick, alert, addled, mobile, bedfast, unhindered, handicapped–underpins Western civilization.
Where the Bible is revered, human life is deemed its most precious and sacred. Where Scripture does not hold sway, human life is counted as worth less.
Why is Holy Writ so powerful and important? Does its black ink on white paper contain some sort of mystical magic? No, Holy Writ elevates people because, as God’s reliable Word, it conveys to the world the attitude of Jesus.
Apart from the Bible, we would be clueless as to how Jesus felt about human beings. But because we have Scripture, we do know what Jesus thinks about our species, and His opinion is the only one that ultimately matters.
Where countries do not accept the spiritual truth contained in our text, the freedom and rights of people are shaky at best. If Jesus’ understanding of humans is not embraced spiritually, it will not be long practiced politically.
In communism, one exists for the many. In atheism, one exists by accident, and can be exploited by the fittest. In religious fanaticism, the one exists for the prevailing deity. In reincarnation, the one exists as no more valuable than a cow.
Rejecting our text is one reason democracy can not be imported at will into other cultures. In lands where the Bible and the individual are not supremely valued, the one will not be protected at all cost by government. A republic and its accompanying freedoms cannot exist apart from value placed on the individual.
Liberty finds its best rooting in the soil of the creation and the cross. These two cruxes are what elevate persons to the highest level. God created, and Jesus shed His blood for, each individual. In this coupled fact people find their dignity.
In God’s eyes, humans are more than merely the highest creatures in the animal kingdom. We are His beloved treasures. Thus, putting value on another is always the essence of God’s kingdom, whatever the day of the week. It is always right to be kind. Kindness is never out of season, unkindness is never in season.
As we strive to live by our threefold mantra at Second, worship/serve/go, on Judgment Day we shall be evaluated in the middle third of this directive not by how many Sundays we attended church, how many Bible verses we read, or how many hours we spent in prayer. For “serve,” the criteria will simply be how kind, gentle, and helpful we were to others, for they are “worth far more.”