Friday, June 3, 2022

Moral-code Thinking (Matthew 12:1-14)

It’s the Sabbath. While walking through a field of grain, hungry disciples of Jesus pick some and eat it (Matthew 12:1). For representatives of the religious establishment, this amounts to doing work forbidden on the Sabbath (v. 2). They have a moral code of conduct that they believe expresses the will of God and this violates it. They criticize Jesus for tolerating such immoral behavior. 

Jesus assures them his disciples are no more immoral than David and his men (vs. 3-4) or even the priests who work in the Temple in Jerusalem on the Sabbath (v. 5). He then adds that they misspeak because God desires “mercy and not sacrifice” (Matthew 12:7).

Mercy and not sacrifice. Compassion and not conformity with a moral code. Why? No moral code exists that can’t be followed by stinkers. No moral code exists that can turn stinkers into saints. What moral codes do best is fan the flames of self-righteousness by enabling conformists to look down on the unconventional who fail to measure up. They allow us stinkers to indulge the illusion that we are saints.

Moral codes also keep us out of the Kingdom of Heaven because God speaks and acts in our midst contrary to the best of them. For the religious establishment, healing is work and as such another violation of the Sabbath (vs. 9-10). For Jesus, healing both glorifies Abba and expresses love for a person. For Jesus, the Kingdom is always a question of relationship with God and people and never a question of conformity to a moral code.

We repeat this moral-code thinking whenever we seek to turn our dynamic relationship with the living God and with others into a static relationship with a moral code. We do this in two ways. In relationship to God, we indulge a moral-code way of thinking whenever we imagine that, by conforming to a list of do’s and don’t’s, we can set ourselves right with God. We can’t. Either God sets us right with himself by grace or we are stuck in our conventional stupidity. 

Moral-code thinking also leads us to imagine that, if we do enough do’s and avoid enough don’t’s, then God owes us health and wealth here and Heaven hereafter. He doesn’t. Everything from him to us is and can only be an absolute gift. 

In relationship with others, moral-code thinking allows us to indulge in delusions of grandeur: the idea that we actually are holier than others and may rightly look down on them now, blame them for their troubles, and contemplate in quiet delight their eternal torment. With that attitude, we have more from God to worry about than they do.

Moral-code thinking ends in death. Jesus is the moral-code breaker par excellence. He brings healing to a man on the Sabbath as to us. The response of the moral-code thinkers of his day? They go out and conspire “how to destroy him” (v. 14). Our response? Hopefully to live as the clearest possible witnesses to the truth, freedom, love, and vitality that are ours in him—by his grace alone. 

Copyright © 2022 by Steven Farsaci.
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