Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” Matthew 12:1–2
When Moses gave the Ten Commandments to the people, there was a prohibition against working on the Sabbath. The Third Commandment said, in part, that “you shall not do any work” on the Sabbath (Exodus 20:10). By the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had added much commentary to this law and expanded it to include as many as 39 different forms of work that they believed was forbidden. Included in their list were the practices of harvesting and milling of grain. For that reason, when the Pharisees saw that the disciples were picking heads of grain and rubbing the grain off the husks so that they could eat it, the Pharisees condemned them for violating what they interpreted to be an offense against the Third Commandment.
The first thing we can note from this passage is that the disciples were hungry. They were exceptionally devoted to Jesus and had been traveling with Him from town to town so that He could preach the Gospel. They had given up occupation, home, family and income so as to be singly devoted to Jesus and His mission. And as a result of this, they were living in poverty and relying upon the generosity of others. It is in this context that they chose to eat the most humble of foods: grain that they picked as they walked. They didn’t complain that there wasn’t a hot meal waiting for them at their destination. They were accepting of the many long journeys by foot that they made. They were okay with the fact that they did not get to sleep in their own bed every night. But they did have the basic human need for food, so they picked this grain as they walked to fulfill this basic need of hunger.
Though there are many lessons we can learn from this passage, one clear lesson is that of the temptation to judge and condemn others. When we fall into the trap of judging others, there are a few things that are common. First, judging and condemning often is based on perceived wrongs that are inflated and exaggerated. The Pharisees clearly inflated and exaggerated this “sin” of the disciples. In our lives, judgmentalness almost always makes the perceived sin of another far more serious than it is, if it is sin at all.
Another common temptation that flows from a judgmental and condemning heart is the failure to even understand the condemned party. In this case above, the Pharisees did not even inquire into the reason the disciples were picking and eating grain. They didn’t ask if they had been without food for some time or how long they had been traveling. It didn’t matter to them that they were hungry, and most likely, very hungry. So also with us, it is common that when we judge and condemn another, we arrive at our verdict without even seeking to understand the situation.
Lastly, it needs to be said that judging others is not our right. Doing so is usually reckless and caused by our own self-centeredness. God did not give the Pharisees the authority to expand the Third Commandment into 39 forbidden practices, nor did He give them the authority to apply those interpretations to the perceived actions of the disciples. And God does not give us the authority to judge others either. If another is clearly caught in a cycle of objectively grave sin, we must do all we can to help draw them out of that sin. But even in that case, we have no right to judge or condemn.
Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have toward being judgmental and condemning of others. If you see this tendency within yourself, spend time thinking about the Pharisees. Their self-righteousness was ugly and damaging. The negative example they set should inspire us to turn away from such acts of condemnation and to reject those temptations the moment they come.
My divine Judge of All, You and You alone know the heart, and You and You alone are capable of acting as Judge. Please exercise Your authority in my life so that I can perceive my own sin. As You do, please also free me from the tendency to judge and condemn. Fill me, instead, with a heart full of mercy and truth toward all. Jesus, I trust in You.
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