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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Today’s Reading | Matthew 12:1–14

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. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

He left that place and entered their synagogue; 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. 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? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (NRSV)


Form over substance—elevation of practice over belief—is what Jesus chides the Pharisees for doing in this exchange. He chastises them for their focus on form—the appearance of being holy. Citing scripture to them, he paraphrases the prophet Hosea, who brought the Israelites this message from God: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt-offerings.” Jesus is not breaking any new ground. Rather, he is pointing the Pharisees (and his disciples) to the true expression of their faith, one concentrated less on the performance of rites or obligations and more on what is in the heart.

This message is one that bears constant repeating. Over the centuries, since the end of Jesus’ ministry here on earth, we have developed many forms for keeping the faith. As we have traveled further from that time, we have learned to rely on practice and form to maintain our system of belief. But if we look at the history of our faith, even if we look only at the Presbyterian history, we see that those practices have changed, sometimes dramatically. A Fourth Church member from 1914 walking into the Gratz Center or our sanctuary today would be amazed and perhaps scandalized. But I hope that any Christian encountering our ministry today will recognize that our practice is merely the form and that in our hearts we seek to reveal the love of God to the world.


Lord, please prevent me from making an idol of religious practice. Teach me to focus on what is in the heart. May the contents of my heart be acceptable to you, and may my actions further the kingdom of God. Amen.

Written by Juli Crabtree, member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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