The spiritual state of Israel has changed from the time of the prophets. God’s assessment of the people then included judgment on gross idolatry and evil practices like child sacrifice.
The Jews of Jesus’ time could not be accused of these things. Their religious leaders were strict in their obedience to the Law, and many other traditions. The temple of Herod’s time was impressive, even if it wasn’t on par with Solomon’s. Yes, they were still living under the authority of another nation, the Romans, but many were looking for the Messiah.
Sin can be obvious and flagrant, but it can also be hidden and just as insidious.
Jesus’ works of healing mercy exposed this insidious nature of sin in the religious leaders’ hearts.
Three times in today’s reading we are told of the disciples plucking grain and the man with the withered hand. What is revealed in these two stories is how an overly scrupulous adherence to the Law can result in hardness of heart.
Jesus’ disciples are hungry. Jesus provides for them. All the Pharisees can see is a breach of the Sabbath, according to their strict interpretation. They can’t see the human need.
In the second case, a man has a withered hand. He is in need. Jesus cares for the man and heals him, but all the Pharisees see is a broken rule. They don’t see the broken person in front of them. When Jesus miraculously heals him their immediate reaction is to go out and conspire about how to kill Jesus! If a miracle like this had been done right in front of your eyes, would your immediate reaction be to kill the miracle worker?
Things are very different in Israel when Jesus comes on the scene, but sin is still sin and people’s needs for a Savior are still the same. The religious leaders thought they were doing well. They thought they were being obedient. But they were neglecting the heart of the Law. Love God and love people. This neglect led to their stubborn hearts being hardened and their eyes becoming blind not just to the needs of their neighbors but to the Savior who walked among them.