Sabbath Mercy

If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent, for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”  Matthew 12:7-8

I cannot walk along a beach without collecting shells. One day I found some small, shiny brown and white pieces with irregular edges, none bigger than an inch in diameter, that must have been part of the same shell at one time. Most people would have said, “They’re broken. Throw them away.” But they intrigued me, so I put them in my pocket.

When I looked at them later, I thought about the times I had been dashed against the rocks of life and shattered–betrayed by those close to me, struggling with loneliness. Those were the times I felt closest to Jesus. In His mercy, He never gave up on me.

When Jesus saw a man with a withered arm, He had mercy and healed him (Matthew 12:1-21). The Pharisees believed that Jesus had violated the Sabbath. God had commanded the people of Israel to remember the Sabbath to keep it holy, but Jesus had a different interpretation than the Pharisees: “It’s lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

Jesus didn’t argue with the Pharisees about what the Mosaic Law meant by working on the Sabbath. He knew God’s compassion for His people was at the heart of the Sabbath command. Sabbath means “cease, rest, be still, sit down.” God knew we would forget Him if we didn’t set aside one day a week for worship and spiritual restoration. He also knew we would need rest in the midst of our busyness.

When Jesus withdrew from that place, “many followed him, and he healed them all” (verse 15). Matthew says Jesus’ actions fulfilled Isaiah’s description of the promised Messiah. He would be gentle: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice” (Isaiah 42:3 quoted in Matthew 12:20).

Jesus restored the broken life of the man with the withered hand. What could Jesus do if we gave Him all our broken shells?


Read Exodus 20:8-11. What was the main purpose of the original Sabbath commandment?

Matthew 23:13-30. The Pharisees prided themselves on keeping the law. They even added hundreds of other laws to insure they did only the right thing. But according to the seven “woes” in this passage, what did the Pharisees do wrong? What should they have done instead?

Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-29. How does Paul describe the people God chooses? Why does God choose this bunch?

Nancy J. Baker

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