Jesus' answer for these people always has something to do with his own identity. The objectionists need to deal with the question of who Jesus actually is. The answer to that question is not exactly stated directly, although Jesus keeps calling himself the Son of Man, whatever that might mean. Here, when Pharisees object to Jesus and his disciples "doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath," Jesus once again answers with a clue, a hint, as to his own identity. First, he puts himself on a par at least with David (12:3-4). Then, with the priests in the temple (12:5). Then comes the statement that really makes me sit up and take notice.
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. For th Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath. (12:6-8)I suppose this is blasphemous stuff. If I'm a disciple following Jesus, a good and observant Jew all my life, I might be having some doubts about this man. I might be wondering if I've chosen the right teacher. But of course there is this to keep in mind: the man himself. If anyone else had said these words, ok then. But it's Jesus. Who in his mercy has healed so very many. And whose teaching is something I simply can't pass by with a shrug of my shoulders or a cynical eye-roll.
And even here, in this encounter with the Pharisees, there is this: "And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'"
And do I know what it means? Do I, me, this non-Jew who never set foot in the Temple, never had anything to do with sacrificial systems . . . or have I? . . . do I too need to learn what mercy really means. When I hear the words of God, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice," do I simply smile and say, "You tell them nasty Pharisees, Jesus!" Or do I, perhaps, wonder if this is something I too have never really understood? And if not, who then will teach me?
I think I'll follow along with the Teacher a little longer. But I get the feeling that this matter of mercy, mercy and not sacrifice, is something that, if truly understood, may just undermine everything I've ever learned, and maybe even the very systems on which human society sustains itself.