Matthew 12: Arguing the Law

For the text of Matthew 12, click here

Here again, Jesus is in conflict with the Pharisees. They have accused Him and the disciples of working on the Sabbath. All they did was “glean” from the harvest. Way back in Leviticus 19:9-18 there is a detailed description of loving thy neighbor and the disciples are simply living into it. The people are instructed to leave a little off the edges of the field and the vineyard for the poor or the sojourner. The disciples were pulling grain from this part of the field and the Pharisees got all upset because it was the Sabbath and they were “working”. I think even today we have a very different definition of what was going on here. 

I don’t have all the strict guidelines that existed at the time but it’s mentioned in my study section that the Pharisees had them to restrict people actions on the day of the Sabbath. They essentially micro-managed the Sabbath and were throwing accusation at Jesus and the disciples and Jesus were having none of it. Jesus’s response answers both the problem with working and the problem with the edge not being theirs. First of all, He reminds them that even David was known to have eaten not only what was not his, but what belonged to God one time when he and his men were starving. They took the bread that was God’s back in 1 Samuel 21. Plus, the rules in Leviticus 23 and Exodus 35 don’t delineate exactly what constitutes work other than not kindling a fire. He also makes the point that the priests work on the Sabbath and they aren’t held accountable for that. They’re supposed to work that day. 

Jesus then reminds them that they were supposed to learn (as instructed in chapter 9) what it meant back in Hosea 6 to want love instead of sacrifice. Why would these guys go hungry just because it’s the Sabbath? They possibly wouldn’t have the energy to devote to loving God without taking the break to eat and they may even get a little too hangry to love God if they weren’t eating just because it was the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus pointed out that not feeding yourself is overkill. 

In the very next story, where Jesus heals a man’s hand, He has to remind them again. It’s okay to do the right thing on the Sabbath, even if it takes a little effort. But seriously, how is it even work to do something on that day that gives the soul rest or that you enjoy doing? I get why these guys wanted to control everything, because there’s a fairly long history of people being controlling and using virtually any excuse they can think of to control the actions of others, also to get to be judgey of others, but seriously. And Jesus is just, Bro, you’re missing the point. 

I wasn’t sure about the Chosen Servant at first because Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount and seems to have disagree at least with the Pharisees so far, but I also realized that it doesn’t really constitute quarreling or speaking in the streets either. The Sermon on the Mount doesn’t sound like it was in town like that. It’s also not immediately obvious that He is bringing hope to the Gentiles, but He does heal them just as quickly and easily as the Jews that come to Him. The Gentiles around Him must be getting hopeful between that it sounded like some of the people who heard the Sermon on the Mount could have been Gentiles and the centurion definitely was and maybe some of the people who followed Him after He left wherever this last altercation with the Pharisees was. It is a little odd, however, that even in the same translation, the words in the book of Isaiah are a little different. Notably, it doesn’t say the “Gentiles” but the “nations”.

There are again some accusations about Jesus working for the devil when He casts out demons and the famous words that I had always thought were Abraham Lincoln’s until now without knowing that he was quoting the Bible. A house divided can’t stand and therefore, how could Jesus be casting out demons if He worked for their same boss? It really doesn’t make sense but I get that in their control tailspin, they had to try to see if it would stick. He also turns the question around on them because He and His followers are not the only people who run around casting out demons. 

I found the discussion of a tree and it’s fruit interesting because I had always thought it was referencing people and their kids because of that saying about the fruit not falling far from the tree. The fruit is actually the things you say and do. You can pretend, but you can’t really do good if you aren’t good. I especially found the thing about every “careless word” timely. It’s the stuff we post about and how it effects the people around us. Are you ready to justify every word you’ve ever posted on social media? Apparently that really can condemn you. We should be prepared to take responsibility for those words, they effect people. 

So, of course, right after Jesus explained to them that their words will have consequences, they demand a sign that He is who He says He is. Jesus’s response is to tell them they were terrible for even asking for a sign but that they’d get the sign of Jonah. Jonah had been swallowed up by a fish for the same amount of time that Jesus will be dead and in hell before ascending and visiting the apostles again. I wonder if any of them realize it down the road when all of this happens. 

Within that conversation, Jesus delivers to them the same sentiment that He had given the apostles about whoever listens to them. Nineveh had listened to Jonah, who was less than Jesus, and were saved. Sheba had traveled from a long way for the wisdom of Solomon. Both will judge the people there for having Jesus right in front of them and not listening or repenting. 

That’s followed with something about a spirit leaving and then coming back with friends. I really don’t get it at all. I’m not sure what waterless spaces have to do with whether or not it returns nor why it would find the house empty. I get that the spirit is returning, but I would imagine that there would be some sort of guidance on how to prevent that situation but that’s not evident here for me at all, sooo…… yeah, I got nothing on that bit. 

The last thing mentioned in this incredibly busy chapter is the presence of Jesus’s mother and brothers. That’s right BROTHERS. I’ve seen so much about whether or not Jesus had siblings and it seems pretty clear to me. Of course, He doesn’t really acknowledge them in a familial way and there could be so many reasons for that. For instance, why weren’t they with Him to begin with? I can see how on a trip of this magnitude, not recognizing who Jesus was before everything else and following Him from the very beginning might put Him off a little. Still, it just seems like they wanna talk.

Jesus doesn’t appear to want to talk to them though. He just says that the people who do the work for God are His family more. I get the sentiment but it does seem a little over. At the same time, I also get that Jesus probably knew what was up with them without having to be told. Or it was an introduction to the concept of family being anyone who works for the benefit of God and then He went and talked to them anyway. It’s not as if there isn’t a possibility that happened between this statement and the next chapter. It would also maybe not make the point of doing “the will of my Father in heaven”as well if that sort of thing was included. Remember that the point of the book is to get people to realize that Jesus was the Son of Man and to follow His teaching. Not every conversation with his mother and brothers would be important for that goal. 

For downloadable study guides, click here.

Chapter links go to the ESV translations at but I’m reading from the ESV Global Study Bible, which is available for free on the Kindle Reading App.

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