Matthew 23:23-24 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Jesus said there were weightier matters of the Law. One of those specific weightier things was mercy. The Jewish leaders of His day were counting spices to make sure they did not fail to keep the minutest detail of the Law, but they missed the big stuff: mercy, justice and faithfulness. If Jesus says there are weightier matters, then we must agree with Jesus that things like mercy become the foundation of our thinking in order to interpret and apply God’s word.
Here is a case in point. Jesus’ disciples were picking grain to eat on the Sabbath Day. They were hungry! But it was the Sabbath day, and you are not supposed to work on the Sabbath Day. The Pharisees were so committed to keeping the Sabbath Day that they failed to see that doing good and having mercy are weightier matters of the Law. Did we hear Jesus say that? Mercy is part of the Law!
Let’s read the following Scriptures and think about it.
Matthew 12:1-8 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. But 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 was hungry, and those who were with him: 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? Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And 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.”
1 Samuel 21:1-6 Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?” And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place. Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.” And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread–if the young men have kept themselves from women.” And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the LORD, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.
Jesus clearly told the Pharisees that His disciples were “guiltless” in plucking those heads of grain in order to eat. I know of a man who was so determined to keep the Sabbath Law that he would not even turn the lights on the Sabbath Day. He couldn’t even help his wife when she was going into labor, because it was the Sabbath…that was considered “work.” Something is terribly wrong here, when our interpretation of Law completely eliminates and contradicts God’s command for mercy for those in need.
Several of Jesus’ miracles were performed on the Sabbath, and I believe Jesus did that on purpose (Matthew 12:10-14; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; John 5:5-18). He did this to teach that the Jewish leadership had really missed it with being so determined to keep every little detail that they set aside looking at the helpless who needed mercy. In fact, Jesus’ showing mercy on the Sabbath for the most helpless revealed the true character of the Jewish leadership: they did not rejoice that people were healed, they plotted to destroy Jesus! Jesus was very angry and sad about how they were behaving. We need to be very careful that our interpretation and application of God’s word doesn’t forsake what God says are the really “heavy” things on the scale. Things like mercy.