This chapter talks about how the pharisees try to trap Jesus several times and diminish the popularity he was gaining among the people.
JESUS IS THE LORD OF THE SABBATH
Sabbath was a day of the week which was set apart by God as a day of rest from the weekly chores, to spend time with God. According to Exodus 31:13-14, God instructed his people to refrain from work and observe the sabbath.
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”Matthew 12:1-2
According to the pharisees and the scribes, the act of picking grain was considered as work, hence the disciples were accused of breaking Sabbath. The Old Testament doesn’t specifically condemn picking grain to fill one’s hungry stomach as work, but the Pharisees made their own definition of work and were adamant on following it.
Jesus responded to their accusation by reminding them of their favorite king, David and his companions, who ate the consecrated bread when they were hungry, the bread that was meant to be consumed only by priests. The consequence of David’s act was faced by the priest, who lost his life along with eighty-five other priests. Jesus also gave the example of the priests on the sabbath duty who desecrated the sabbath. Two examples to show the hypocrisy in the pharisees’ condemnation of the disciples.
The pharisees and the scribes did not consider David or the other priests to have broken the law and turned a blind eye to their misdeeds. But when Jesus’s disciples were hungry and picked a few heads of grain to eat, they wanted to throw the rule book at them.
Jesus used this opportunity to make the pharisees realize the true intention of Sabbath. He wanted them to know that simply following rituals and laws would not bring them closer to God. He told them that something greater that their precious temple is here. He was telling them about Himself, that now the creator of Sabbath was in front of them to proclaim the love of God. He wanted them to do the same, to have mercy and not condemn the innocent.
Jesus moved and went to the synagogue where a man with a shriveled hand was there. The pharisees were clearly not happy with Jesus’ stance on Sabbath and planned to catch Him again. They asked Jesus, if it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus responded by asking them if they would rescue their sheep that had fallen into a pit on the Sabbath.
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.Matthew 12:13
The pharisees were so blinded by their thoughts of trapping Jesus, that they did not even value human beings. They were not bothered by someone being unwell but were so adamant on following the laws without any understanding of those laws.
They thought that they could get close to God by just following the rules and did not give any importance to knowing God and doing His will. The Sabbath was created for man and not the other way round. Even after all this, the pharisees did not give up and plotted on how they could kill Jesus.
GOD’S CHOSEN SERVANT
Jesus, aware of the pharisees plan, withdrew from that place. Despite flying under their radar, He healed every sick person who came to him.
This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.”Matthew 12:17-21
Matthew pointed out this prophecy of Isaiah that Christ is the chosen One in whom God put His Spirit. Until the appointed time, Jesus remained silent and didn’t quarrel with anyone.
The two symbols used here, bruised reed and smouldering rick, are both very fragile and Isaiah’s prophecy said that Jesus wouldn’t move even these fragile things until the time He brought victory over sin through His sacrifice on the cross. Then the nation will put their hope on Him for their salvation.
JESUS AND BEELZEBUL
Jesus healed a man who was demon possessed, blind and mute. When people saw this, they started wondering if He was the Son of David whom they were expecting. The pharisees who were already plotting against Jesus couldn’t tolerate this and falsely accused Jesus of driving out demons through the prince of demons.
For the pharisees, this was just a way to attack Jesus but they failed to realize the consequence of their actions. Jesus answered saying, Satan cannot work against himself and if he did, his kingdom wouldn’t be able to stand.
Jesus threw a counter question, asking them how their people drove out the demons. He told them to then judge whether they were also doing this with the help of demon as they accused Him or were they doing through the Spirit of God just like He did.
Jesus then told a parable of how in order to plunder a strong man’s house, one must first tie the man up. Jesus pointed out that to heal a demon possessed man, the demon should be defeated and bound.
The Pharisees, after witnessing the work of the Spirit of God, attributed it to beelzebul, prince of demon. They were well aware of the works of the Spirit, yet credited it to the evil one and Jesus called this out as blasphemy against Holy Spirit and a sin which will not be forgiven.
Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.Matthew 12:33
Just like the example of a good and a bad tree, we will be recognised by the fruits we bear. The words that come out of our mouths are a reflection of our inner thoughts. We ought to be careful with our words. The pharisees were quick to use their words to accommodate their evil plans without thinking of the consequences. Jesus pointed out how our evil, dull and ungodly words reflect our inner nature and we must seek His guidance to help us bear good fruit.
THE SIGN OF JONAH
The pharisees and the scribes didn’t give up and asked Jesus for a sign. Jesus responded by calling them a wicked and adulterous generation. These people were hearing the Good News, His teachings, seeing all the miracles, yet, wanted a sign. Jesus told them that apart from the sign of Jonah, none will be given.
Jonah was sent to Nineveh to let the people know that they were going to perish unless they repented. While on his way, Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of a fish. Jesus was also sent to this world to save us from our sins and spent three days in the heart of the earth and rose up.
When the people of Nineveh heard Jonah’s message, they repented, unlike the people of this generation, who even after seeing and hearing the works of Jesus, didn’t repent. They were blind and ignorant and failed to recognize that Jesus (the one greater than Jonah) was there in front of them. Do we also turn ignorant when we see Him work in our own lives?
Jesus also mentioned how the Queen of South wanted to witness the wisdom of King Solomon and came all the way to listen to him. Jesus told them how the queen recognized Solomon’s wisdom but now the source of his wisdom was here, yet they failed to recognize Jesus who is greater than Solomon.
Jesus gave another example of how when an impure spirit is driven out, it roams around and comes back to the same place if it finds the place clean, in order and unoccupied. If the person from whom the impure spirit has left doesn’t invite Jesus inside after Jesus has cleaned the dirt inside, then the impure spirit will bring in more spirits, evil than itself and reside in him and his situation will be worse than before.
If a person tries to lose weight and comes across a pastry shop while hungry, he will indulge in pastries leading to him gaining more weight than before. Similarly, if we don’t fill our hearts with God after knowing the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross for us and leave our hearts unoccupied, we make space for the evil one to work. This will lead us in the paths of evil and we will be worse off. We should examine our hearts to see who are we letting inside.
JESUS’ MOTHER AND BROTHERS
In a parallel passage from Mark 3:20-34, we see how Jesus’ family was against Him and called Him to be out of his mind. When His family came to one of His gatherings they sent someone to call Jesus outside.
Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”Matthew 12:49-50
Jesus’ own family failed to believe in Him and tried to please the people around. Jesus simply said that whoever does the will of the Father, is more important than the earthly families or values. Let’s think how we act, are we ready to do His will or shadow the herd in the society?