NT Gospel Doctrine Lesson 10: Matthew 11:28-12:13; Luke 13:10-17; 7:36-50

More stories today in the Gospels, including several Sabbath Controversies. In the following commentary, I assume that you’ve read the Matthew passages.

Matthew 11:28-30 Jesus offers those who are carrying heavy burdens a yoke instead, which is “light.” Is there irony in that trade? Yokes sometimes had two animals, in which case you are sharing a load. Is that what Jesus implicitly offers? Yokes weren’t necessarily limited to animals, people also used them on rare occasion, per Jeremiah 27:2ff, but usually as a sign of slavery. And indeed, taking his yoke upon us means accepting him as our superior, our lord, our master. (“Slave” and “servant” are the same word in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic.)

In all of the earliest applications of the yoke concept, the yoke was seen as a symbol of control, ownership, or service. Consequently, the yoke became a symbol quite early of the owner-owned, master-slave, lord-subject relationship….It is no surprise to find that these symbols at the literal, economic, and political levels would eventually be used to describe and define the relationship between man and his celestial owners or sovereigns, the gods….The synoptic materials speak of taking up the yoke in connection with learning of the Messiah. Such an act is associated with meekness and lowliness. Such a relationship is also associated with restfulness and peace. Certainly, as with the Tannaim, the yoke was seen as an indication of privilege and honor, and not reproach and hardship.”- “Yoke,” in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary

But what kind of boss IS Jesus? One “meek and lowly of heart,” i.e.

he isn’t boasting that he’s attained some special level of spiritual achievement. He is encouraging us to believe that he isn’t going to stand over us like a policeman, isn’t going to be cross with us like an angry schoolteacher. – Matthew for Everyone

In other words, the best boss you’ve ever had. Demanding, but kind, fair, and paying you far more than you’re actually worth.


 Matt 12:1-13 (parallel tellings in Luke 6:1-5 and Mark 2:23-28)- Sabbath Controversies 1- So, why don’t the Pharisees care that disciples are just randomly eating some guy’s crop?As it turns out, the Law of Moses explicitly allowed for gleaning in order to provide for the hungry,  which plays a role in Ruth and the NT.

 If you go into your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat your fill of grapes, as many as you wish, but you shall not put any in a container. If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain. (Deut. 23:24-25 NRS)

KJV "Ears of Corn." Public domain photo.

KJV “Ears of Corn.” Public domain photo.

So if you were hungry, you could eat out of anyone’s field… but try to take any with you or do serious harvesting, and YOU were breaking the law. Also note what they are actually eating. The KJV says “ears of corn,” but maize is a new-world crop, not grown in the New Testament. “Corn” used to be a generic term for “grain” and still is in England. (Apparently, the US settlers first called Maize “Indian corn” (i.e. “Indian grain”) which was eventually shortened to “corn.” Maize is a spanish term. See conversation here.)

2- What’s not lawful, then? “Harvesting” on the sabbath is their accusation. Whether “gleaning” constituted “harvesting” is debatable. Jesus, however, doesn’t argue that it is, in fact, lawful or that their interpretation is wrong. Rather, he argues through two examples in the Torah that their understanding is superseded, that because of the special circumstance of who he is, it doesn’t matter. The first example involves David on the run, being given the temple bread reserved for the priests (1 Samuel 21:1-6 and Lev 24:5-9). Jesus will state that he is superior to the temple, a bold statement indeed, except that it happened to be true. The second example involves the priests being prescribed by law to violate the sabbath (Num 28:9-10), which Jesus follows with claiming Lordship over the sabbath. In other words, Jesus takes the opportunity to preach his identity instead of argue minute points of sabbath law. He then gives them (and us!) a challenge by citing Hosea 6:6. Back in Matt 9:13, Jesus had told “the Pharisees” to “go and learn” what Hosea 6:6 meant; here he verbally rolls his eyes at them still not understanding its application.

For chésed is what I want, not sacrifice! Knowing God more then burnt offerings! (My translation of Hosea.)

What is chésed? (That ch- is guttural like loch, and the accent is on the first syllable.) I tried to explain chésed a little in this post, but it’s broad: Covenantal loyalty, mercy, lovingkindness, grace, and faithfulness might all be appropriate translations in different circumstances. One author elaborates that chesed is

a deep and enduring commitment between two persons or parties, by one who is able to render assistance to the needy party who in the circumstances is unable to help him or herself. (From this excellent resource, full article.)

In short, it’s a complicated enough concept that I’d prefer to just transliterate instead of translate. Here in our story, being Greek, it doesn’t actually say chesed, but the Greek translation of Hosea 6:6. It’s clear that Jesus is using “sacrifice” to stand in for law and ritual.

“Sacrifice” again appears as a synecdoche for the entire ritual law. “Mercy,” which allows Jesus’ followers to reap a small crop to feed themselves, takes precedence over an interpretation of Sabbath work that would have stopped them (mercy resides at the center of God’s will and unifies 12:3–7 here; see further Luz 2001: 182). After all, the Son of Man is someone “greater than the temple” (12:6); indeed, he is “Lord of the Sabbath” (12:8).- Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament

In the next story in Matthew, Jesus heals a man’s withered hand in the synagogue on the sabbath. But first, he asks the question, is it lawful, is it Torah-compliant, to do good on the sabbath? To kill or to heal? (Luke 6:9) In Mark’s version, the silent response of the people to his question angers him. (See Julie Smith’s excellent post on this.)  Jesus offers a parallel.

He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. (Matt. 12:11-14 NRS)

Lots of interesting implications from this. The (largely Protestant) CNTUOT cited above offers this.

For it to be lawful to do any kind of good on the Sabbath leaves the door wide open for a dramatically different approach to the seventh day of the week. Work of many kinds may indeed be required! The early church rightly recognized the Sabbath as an OT ritual that Christians did not literally observe, not even on Sunday, the new day of worship based on the day of Christ’s resurrection. Only when Christianity was legalized would Sabbatarianism be reintroduced, with the notion that Christians had to cease from work one day out of seven. In striking contrast, Christians during the first three centuries condemned Sabbatarianism as a kind of Judaizing that reverted to a sub-Christian legalism.

As many know, for Jews, the weekly sabbath was Saturday, and today LDS treat Sunday as the sabbath. (Well, except in Israel, where LDS attend meetings on Saturday, and Muslim countries, where LDS attend meetings on Friday.) It appears that for the (some of) the earliest Christians, Saturday was venerated as the Sabbath and no work was done, if possible. Sunday, however, was The Lord’s Day, and celebrated Christ’s resurrection.

Today LDS have blurred the two; we attend Christ-centered meetings on The Lord’s Day, but treat it like a Jewish sabbath, with restrictions on activities. Our LDS scriptures complicate things a bit further with their own guidance and cultural inheritances. Most of us lack a strong principle to operate from in deciding what we will and won’t do in our families on Sunday, as much as we kind of do what we want within certain parameters we inherit from our families and local cultures. (I remember my first extended stay in Utah as a college freshman, being shocked at how many LDS ate out on Sunday.) I would suggest that we each develop a guiding principle about our Sunday activities, something we’ve thought out and reflected on, prayed over and feel good about.

BYU history prof. Craig Harline has a good book on the history of Sunday: a History of the First Day from Babylonia to the Superbowl.( Craig’s other books are also fun, including a well- reviewed missionary reminiscence from a non-LDS publisher, Way Below the Angels. He also has a great lecture called “What Happened to My Bell-bottoms? How Things That Were Never Going to Change Have Sometimes Changed Anyway, and How Studying History Can Help Us Make Sense of It All” Read at BYU Studies or watch here. Well worth your time.)

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