Matthew continues his narrative in this section which highlights the growing opposition to Jesus in certain Jewish circles. Notice as you read the verses that the disciples of Jesus are right in the middle of the controversy; didn’t they go out on a mission of harvest? You may recall that chapter 10 was all about Jesus preparing to send them out, then they aren’t mentioned in chapter 11 and here they are in chapter 12. Are they back now? Did they ever go out? Was Jesus’ preparations and instructions intended only for the future after Pentecost?
Matthew doesn’t make this issue clear, and I’ll let you ponder it on your own…
They are walking through a grain field on the Sabbath, and the disciples pick a few heads of grain to eat, and the Pharisees jump in: Holy heart attack! They are harvesting on the Sabbath! (12:1-2)
Jesus refutes their allegations with examples from the Scriptures (12:3-7) and then concludes with an amazing statement in verse 8: “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”
Matthew continues the narrative:
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (12:9-10)
When Jesus entered the synagogue, what was He thinking; was it His intention to heal the man with the injured hand? The text doesn’t say, it doesn’t even tell us if Jesus knew about the man being there, and the Pharisees would have had no way to know what was in His mind at that moment, so leaving nothing to chance, they set Him up, paragons of virtue that they were. It would be my guess that His answer wasn’t exactly what they expected:
He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (12:11-12)
Look very carefully at His answer, and then re-read the question. Did you notice that Jesus answered a question they didn’t ask? Notice that they asked if it was legal to heal someone on the Sabbath, and that the answer was that is legal to do good on the Sabbath. To heal someone on the Sabbath is a specific action that they wanted to use in bringing an indictment against Him, but to do good is a vague generality that most people would have difficulty in objecting to; it isn’t a specific action that is “actionable” in the legal sense, or in plain English: it really isn’t anything with a legal basis for dispute.
Now, look carefully and see what Jesus actually did:
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 (12:13).
Jesus asked the man to stretch out his hand, and lo and behold, the hand was perfectly fine. I guess there wasn’t anyone there who needed healing after all!
Now dear readers, those of you who are amateur lawyers and sleuths, what did Jesus do? Did He heal the man, or was the man already fine? If you think He healed the man, then when exactly did He do it? What is your evidence? Did you see Him heal the man?
Do you recall the advice that Jesus gave the disciples in 10:16, that they should be as “shrewd as snakes and harmless as a dove”? Here is one of the best examples of that in all of Scripture.
The Pharisees, realizing that He had outsmarted and outflanked them, were somewhat less than pleased at this:
But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus (12:14).
I’m sure that you noticed the change in their attitude; they wanted a basis to file charges against Jesus, now they just want to kill Him.