Read Matthew 12:1-21 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” 9 He went on from there and entered their synagogue. 10 And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. 15 Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all 16 and ordered them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles. 19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets; 20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory; 21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope. Whenever the Pharisees come into the story you can almost hear the melodramatic music of scheming villains playing in the background, announcing their arrival. In reality the Pharisees were the “church going leaders” of the time. They were the ones who, as far as the people could tell, knew God’s Word best, prayed the right ways, and faithfully went to all religious gatherings. However, Jesus helps to show us that they took everything that God had given them, everything God spoke, and emptied it of the intentions and desires of God. Out of a desire to establish a segregating holiness, a need to distinguish between those within God’s favor and those on the outside, they added legislation and clarifying definition to God’s Word. I suppose that is the tendency of our sinful natures. But we should recall Jesus’ words from the end of Matthew 11 where He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” What does God desire of us? What has He given to us that we empty of its purpose? Has prayer become empty words or a burdensome requirement? Is church a thoughtless activity or an overwhelming obligation? Is there something else that needs this sort of examination? God calls us to gather in His house, pray in His name, and live in relationship with brothers and sisters in Christ not as a fulfillment of some excessive stack of legislation. These and many other things are invitations into experiencing the manifestation of God’s mercy in Jesus that we would find rest for our souls. So let us throw off the burdening chains of empty obligation or self-righteous demonstration. Instead, through these “things of God” may we find our strengthening and encouragement…rest for our souls. Prayer Almighty God, may Your Word and work be a refreshing spring to my spirit that it would bring joy rather than burden and that I would not neglect such needful gifts of Your grace. Amen.