By this time the Pharisees were seeking opportunity to condemn and destroy
Jesus. They were jealous of him and afraid of his power, for all the people
were following this new teaching and the Pharisees were losing their
authority and position over the people.
The problem the Pharisees had was they could find nothing on which to accuse
Jesus and prove him wrong. Here we see them ask him, “Is it lawful to heal
on the Sabbath?” (Vs. 10) They considered healing to be a form of work and
on the Sabbath no man was supposed to work. But they could not fault the
answer Jesus gave them. He said that if any of them had a sheep and it fell
in a pit on a Sabbath, would they not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of
course they would, for if they were to leave it in the pit until the Sabbath
ended, the sheep may die. To a man they would have removed the sheep from a
pit rather than see it harmed. And as Jesus pointed out, a man is of much
greater worth than a sheep.
Jesus showed that it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath. In the same way
that the Pharisees would not have allowed a sheep to suffer on the Sabbath,
why would they consider it a sin to allow a person with an infirmity or
sickness to be healed on the Sabbath? They were splitting hairs and being
contentious for the sake of their own evil ends. After Jesus had healed the
man the Pharisees went and took counsel how to destroy him.
The New Covenant came into being so that we could be set free from the law
of sin and death and have life. As Paul wrote, “For the law of the Spirit of
life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans
8:1) Paul also showed us that, “Christ is the end of the law, that everyone
who has faith may be justified.” (Romans 10:4) But the Pharisees were not
able to see the righteousness that came from God. Instead they were seeking
to establish a form of self-righteousness based on keeping the letter of the
law. Paul showed the folly of such an approach in Romans 10:3, “For, being
ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish
their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.”
Jesus was showing this same point to the Pharisees when he healed the sick
on the Sabbath. He said to the Pharisees earlier, “I desire mercy, and not
sacrifice,” (Matthew 12:7), but the Pharisees did not understand him. In
healing the sick he was showing mercy to the sick people. The Pharisees
would have made it hard for the man causing him to wait for another day to
be healed. They would have preferred he showed “sacrifice” by waiting in
pain for the sake of the law. They were legalistic to the extreme and could
not see that what God sought was for man to be merciful to his fellow man.
Jesus showed in another section the degree to which the Pharisees went and
failed in their self-righteous approach. In Matthew 23:23-24 we see these
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and
dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law,
justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without
neglecting the others.
24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
The Pharisees and scribes went to extreme lengths to tithe tiny amounts of
their produce, even down to herbs grown possibly in a window garden or a
pot. But then, as we saw with the man with the withered hand, they neglect
the more important aspects of the law, justice, mercy and faith. Jesus then
shows us a comparison of how foolish they were.
Jesus compared tithing to a gnat, which is one of the smallest insects
known. If we had a drink and swallowed the gnat most people would not even
notice because gnats are so small. If a fly fell in most people would throw
out the drink and get another, or if they swallowed it would gag and cough.
This shows how small a gnat is in comparison to even a fly. But Jesus says
that the failure of the Pharisees was as if a camel fell in their drink and
they continued drinking and swallowed it.
Now a camel compared to a gnat is a huge comparison. A camel stands taller
than a full-grown man and can weigh up to 700 kg (1540 pounds). A gnat on
the other hand is so light you would not even feel it on you. In this
analogy, Jesus showed the difference in the importance of tithing as
compared to mercy, justice and faith. Tithing is insignificant compared to
these other matters. And yet the Pharisees thought that by their tithing
they were doing God’s will. This same issue rages still today with some
churches promoting the importance of tithing over many other matters of the
But self-righteousness through works of the law, which is the path the
Pharisees were following in their tithing, is no righteousness at all. The
only true righteousness that exists is given by God through faith in Jesus
Christ. To walk in God’s righteousness means to follow Jesus’ example. Do
good and show mercy when it is warranted, as he did to the sick man who was
healed on the Sabbath, for Jesus also showed, “The sabbath was made for man,
not man for the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)