God loves you enough to take your sins away
The conflicts of Jesus
40 Blogs of Lent: Day 16
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck ears of corn and to eat. 2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’, you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Matthew 12:1–8 ESVUK
Leviticus is a book of Joy
The Pharisees were the interpreters of God’s Law, they ran the Synagogues, but they did not understand that the Book of Leviticus in particular, together with the rest of the law is not supposed to be understood as a book of rules and regulations to be rigidly adhered to. The Book of Leviticus is supposed to be a book of joy. God’s laws are about freedom and forgiveness, they are not meant to enslave.
Chapter 12 of Matthew’s gospel shows confrontations between Jesus and the Pharisees.
What the disciples were doing was legal, to pluck someone else’s corn was not theft under the Jewish law:
If you go into your neighbour’s standing corn, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbour’s standing corn.
Part of God’s law was that people travelling through the land, the poor and the foreigner must not be allowed to go hungry. Picking a few wheatears was not classed as reaping, you needed a sickle to do that. The Pharisees are looking for something with which to trip Jesus up. Jesus again quotes from the prophets:
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
Jesus also quoted this passage after calling Matthew back in chapter 9. Matthew and his friends were with Jesus having a party. Enjoying themselves. The Pharisees did not like that either. Joy, especially with those sort of people, was not part of their idea of religion.
Leviticus shows that God cares
The book of Leviticus is not about rules, it is about celebrating a God who cares.
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.
And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.
Leviticus 19:9, 23:22
In those days the edges and corners of fields were not reaped, neither was dropped crops picked up. The law shows that God cares for the poor and for the sojourner, for the hungry, for foreigners, for orphans and for widows. The sacrifices, described in Leviticus in all their gory detail, may make the modern reader go yeuk. To the ancient mind though the reaction would be yeuk. It is supposed to be yeuk because that is how God feels about sin. But the sacrifices are about lifting the yeuk from us. They were to remove sin, to put people right with God, to give people a right relationship with God and to mend the relationships between people. God loves people enough to take away their sins. That is why Leviticus is a book of joy.
Jesus came as a once and for all time sacrifice. God became human to take away the sin not just for the Jews annually but for all people for all time. It does not matter how good or bad you have been:
God loves you enough to take your sins away.