Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 20. Values
Mt 12:9-12 Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”
I realise that this is stretching the parameters of our present brief and what we have here is more a comparison than an analogy, but it is a close cousin, so here goes. The account is simple: Jesus goes into a synagogue on a Saturday, the Sabbath when the Law said God’s people should refrain from work to be able focus more on Him. In the synagogue Jesus is attracted by a man with a shrivelled hand. From what follows it is clear that some Pharisees are also there in the synagogue and they clearly see Jesus’ interest in this man and so, guessing what is on his mind, ask him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” They do it, we are told, because they were “Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus.” (v.10).
It is in the light of this – and Jesus knows their hearts – that he asks them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?” (v.11) It was generally accepted that if your property was under threat you could take action – even on the Sabbath – to save it. He pushes the logic of the situation: “How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (v.12) Now see what follows: “Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.” (v.13,14)
It is a very simple and obvious comparison and really was one that had no reply other than, “Yes.” That’s what you would think, but the reality was far from that. In fact it was quite bizarre! These Pharisees, these ‘guardians of the Law’, are so concerned to uphold the Law and so incensed by Jesus disregard for their twisting of the Law, that a) they disregard the wonderful fact that Jesus CAN heal people, b) they show no care or compassion for the man with a real physical need, the shriveled hand (which would have limited his ability to work) and c) they actually want to kill Jesus for doing good – or perhaps more for the fact he had shown them up for what they were – heartless, cold and callous.
Now Jesus used the comparison of sheep and a man to point out that, before God at least, a man is of so much more value – but this clashed with the rigid ideas prevailing among the Pharisees who were looked up to by many for their lives given over to protecting and upholding God’s word. So rigid had they become that they lost perspective and Jesus simple comparison sought to refocus them, but their self-righteousness rejected that attempt and indeed simply stirred their hatred of Jesus even more.
Jesus, in our example verses above, wanted to heal the man. He could have waited until the next day but he did it on the Sabbath to challenge this loss of perspective of the Pharisees. The call of these verses in this study is not to be a heartless and callous Pharisee as we seek to uphold God’s design for mankind, and not to miss the opportunities that there are to speak graciously and reveal the love of God in the face of standards that are utterly ungodly.
Let me explain more what I find on my mind. Our role as believers is to be salt and light in this world, as we’ve seen in previous studies, but the danger is that if you had put this to the Pharisees they would have claimed that that was their role as well. They were there, they would have said, to preserve the word of God and to purify it from casual usage and, indeed to ensure that it was being used to purify people’s lives – and all of that may have been true – except the issue is the way you go about doing it.
So rigid had they become in their pursuit of the word of God that it meant that they lost sight of the fact that people are precious to God and are in fact more important than rules. Mark has Jesus teaching, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mk 2:17) This issue of the Sabbath law – and remember it was there in the Ten Commandment and thus of significant importance – was an example of where the Pharisees focused more on the letter of the Law but failed to remember that God gave the laws of Moses for the benefit of the people. God wants to bless people with a time of rest, He wants to help them overcome the temptation to make life only about work. So here they were on this day of blessing from God and what greater blessing could you have that healing this man?
How do we value people? To these Pharisees this man was almost invisible, they didn’t care about his disability, they just saw him as an opportunity through which to attack and show up Jesus. Their anti-Jesus agenda got in the way of this man’s need. Their anti-Jesus agenda got in the way of seeing that Jesus had come with the power of God to bless people – through healing. Now we don’t have an anti-Jesus agenda but we do have agendas that are anti-other-people’s-life-styles.
We may be absolutely right in feeling negative about a particular lifestyle or behaviour – and in this increasingly godless world there is going to be more and more that runs contrary to God’s design – but can we make sure we never lose sight of the fact that these are ‘people’, those made in the image of God, and their weird and wrong lifestyles are simply a symptom of their godlessness and their lost-ness. They desperately need saving, they desperately need God’s love and if they don’t find it in us, where will they find it? Merely because Jesus met with and ate with tax collectors and the low life of society, it didn’t mean he took on their beliefs, their attitudes, their lifestyles. No, he remained the pure Son of God while he was open to them and showed that God’s love rose above individual ethical demands, to show the recipients that there was in fact another way to living than the way they had (which many of them despised anyway and longed to be free of!)
Keep the moral values but not at the expense of losing sight that these are people who God loves (even if He doesn’t love their lifestyle!!!) and He has come to redeem them. May it be so.