Matt. 12:9 He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10 a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
The Pharisees were holding to the letter of the law, but in the meantime they were killing the very spirit which it intended. They waited, trying to catch Jesus doing something wrong. Then they pointed out to him a man with a withered hand. They were intentionally taunting Jesus and trying to catch him doing something they believed was breaking the law of the Sabbath.
Jesus then takes a little detour to make a comment about sheep. They would have understood what he was talking about because they valued their sheep. Sheep are simple creatures which can get themselves into trouble. They need a shepherd to care for them and they wouldn’t understand whether it was the Sabbath or any other day of the week and there is the possibility that one might just fall off into a pit. The sheep, being of financial value to the owner, would need to be saved. Waiting until the next day might mean the death of the creature (and financial loss to the owner). Of course, it would be ridiculous to think that one would not save the animal!
He pointed out to them that it is “lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” The alternative to doing good on the Sabbath is to do evil. Not to save a life on the Sabbath is to kill.
The attitude of the Pharisees was disturbing to Jesus and this is more clearly relayed by the account of this story in Mark.
Mark 3:5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Jesus was literally angry at the attitude of the Pharisees for he realized that they valued their sheep and their rules more than someone with great need.
I don’t have a big flock of sheep but I do have a pile of stuff. The reality is that some of my stuff may get in my way of being a faithful servant of the Lord. The poor person who is a part of our church community or the new stranger who has moved in down the street may be in great need. Unfortunately we’re too wrapped up with our own “sheep” that we may never see the need.
Our sheep may take the form of our car, or a planned vacation, or a new home, or clothing. The list may be different for all of us but we all find things that we consider of value. When we place them and the care of them above God’s children, we have a problem. We become just as guilty at the Pharisees in our sins of omission. The alternative to not caring for God’s little ones is to do evil — the alternative to not saving a life is to kill. But while the needy are lost and dying, we may be too busy saving our stuff…our sheep.
Whatever we prioritize above the mission of God in this world can become sin for us. Sheep in and of themselves are not bad. Stuff in and of itself is not bad. But it is when our sheep receive priority over God’s mission in this world then we are as guilty as the Pharisees and the Lord looks upon us and is grieved.
Lord, I don’t want to grieve you. Please help me to put you and your mission first and foremost in all I do. Amen.
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