View print-optimized version

Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Today’s Scripture 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)

So often, Jesus’ ministry stirs up controversy. Jesus heals on the sabbath, and the Pharisees accuse him of neglecting God’s law. Jesus offers forgiveness to the down and out, and the Scribes accuse him of blasphemy. Jesus raises a man from the dead, and the authorities plot to kill him. You see, Jesus’ ministry—his movement—threatens the status quo and strikes fear in the hearts of those in power.

Jesus’ disciples were famished. They had just spent weeks following Jesus through cities and countryside, preaching to the masses. So they plucked a few grains of wheat to sustain themselves, and the Pharisees lost their minds.

It is pretty easy for Christians—especially twenty-first century Protestants like ourselvesto look at the Pharisees and gawk at their perceived narrow-mindedness: “Of course we would prioritize hunger and healing over a religious ritual! How could the Pharisees be so callous and cruel?”

But if I am being honest, I have a bit of a soft spot for the Pharisees. In response to a radical shift, the Pharisees are offering a very human response. Jesus is bringing change, and very often change means loss. The Pharisees know that with the change that Jesus promises, their identity, their power, their whole way of being could be lost. So they respond by doubling-down. Who can blame them?

As Christianity enters this new modern era—an era in which we might not be the most practiced faith in the nation—it is certain that we will thrash and gasp to hold on to traditions and practices that we have known for centuries. Honestly, that is terrifying to me. But Jesus reminds the Pharisees (he reminds us) that there is something greater than the earthy temples we have built: love. For if we remain open to being changed by God, we find ourselves resting in that which is constant: God’s everlasting love.

Free me, O God, from my fear of being changed. Stir within me the desire to grow and transform, that by your brooding Spirit I may be rooted in that which does not change: your everlasting love. Amen.

Written by Shawn Fiedler, Worship and Adult Education Coordinator

Devotion index by date | Id like to receive daily devotions by email