Matthew 12

Jesus Is the True Servant of God[a]

Chapter 12

Picking Grain on the Sabbath.[b] 1 At that time, Jesus was walking through a field of grain on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look at your disciples. They are doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath.”[c]

3 [d]He answered, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and they ate the consecrated bread, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests were permitted to eat. 5 [e]Or have you not read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath, but they are considered to be without guilt? 6 I tell you, one greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had truly understood what is meant by the words, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these men who are without guilt. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”[f]

The Man with a Withered Hand.[g] 9 Moving on from that place, Jesus entered their synagogue. 10 A man was there who had a withered hand, and hoping to find some reason to accuse Jesus they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

11 He said to them, “Suppose you had only one sheep and it fell into a pit on the Sabbath. Would you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable a man is than a sheep! Therefore, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, so that it was as sound as the other one. 14 But the Pharisees went out and began to plot how they might put him to death.[h]

15 The Servant of the Lord.[i] When Jesus became aware of this, he departed from that place. Many people followed him, and he healed all who were ill, 16 but he warned them not to make him known. 17 This was to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah:

18 “Behold, my servant, whom I have chosen,
my beloved in whom I delight.
I will place my spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not cry out or shout,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
nor will he snuff out a smoldering wick,
until he establishes justice as victorious;
21 and in his name the Gentiles will place their hope.”

22 Whoever Is Not with Me Is against Me.[j] Then they brought to him a man who was unable to either see or speak and who was possessed by a demon. He cured him, so that the man who was mute both spoke and saw. 23 All the people were astonished, and they said, “Is this not the Son of David?”[k] 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul,[l] the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”

25 He knew what they were thinking, and he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and every city or household divided against itself cannot survive. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom survive? 27 If it is by Beelzebul that I cast out demons, by whom do your own children cast them out? Therefore, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.

29 “Or again, how can anyone break into a strong man’s house and steal his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then indeed he can ransack the house.

30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore, I tell you that every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.[m]

33 A Tree and Its Fruits.[n]“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad. For a tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can your speech be virtuous when you yourselves are evil? For the mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart. 35 A good man brings forth good things from the good stored up within him, but an evil man brings forth evil things from his store of evil. 36 I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to render an account for every careless word they utter. 37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

38 The Sign of Jonah.[o] Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to him, “Teacher, we would like you to show us a sign.” 39 He replied, “An evil and adulterous[p] generation asks for a sign, but the only sign it will be given is the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights.[q]

41 [r]“On the day of judgment the inhabitants of Nineveh will rise up with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. 42 On the day of judgment the queen of the south will rise up with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the farthest reaches of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

43 New Offensive from the Evil Spirit.[s]“When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions seeking a place to rest, but it finds none. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the home from which I departed.’And when it returns, it finds that home empty, swept clean, and put in order. 45 Then it goes off and brings back with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they enter and settle there. As a result, the plight of that person is worse than before. So it will also be with this evil generation.”

46 The True Family of Jesus.[t] While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brethren[u] appeared. They were standing outside, wishing to speak with him. [ 47 Someone told him, “Behold, your mother and your brothers are standing outside. They want to speak with you.”][v] 48 But Jesus replied to that man, “Who is my mother? Who are my brethren?” 49 Then, pointing to his disciples, he said, “Behold, my mother and my brethren. 50 Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother and sister and mother.”


  1. Matthew 12:1 The Good News of the kingdom spreads from town to town; a new law of salvation is announced and runs up against the refusal of those in authority. The conflict between Jesus and Judaism now appears inevitable. The newness of the Gospel totally upsets recognized habits of thinking and ways of acting. The more Jesus bypasses the Law for the service and salvation of human beings, the more he enters into conflict with his religious environment. Those who are close to Jesus are those who believe in him.
  2. Matthew 12:1 Jesus reminds the Pharisees, who are attached to the letter of the Law, that a religion without love is worthless (Hos 6:6), and in order to make them face up to their blindness he cites an incident of the Old Testament (David and his companions: 1 Sam 21:2-7), a practical aspect of worship (the priests do not abstain from work in the temple on the Sabbath: Lev 24:8; Num 28:9), and a requirement of good sense (the sheep in the pit). Jesus utters his decision with authority: he claims to be Lord of the Sabbath, and he is more than the Sabbath, that is, the very place of God’s presence.
  3. Matthew 12:2 The Pharisees had set down 39 categories of actions forbidden on the Sabbath, based on interpretations of the Law and Jewish customs. One of these was harvesting. By picking wheat and rubbing it in their hands, the disciples were technically harvesting according to the religious leaders. But the disciples were picking grain because they were hungry, not because they wanted to harvest the grain for profit. Hence, they were not working on the Sabbath.
  4. Matthew 12:3 Each Sabbath 12 fresh loaves of bread (the bread of the Presence) were to be set on a table in the Holy Place (Ex 25:30; Lev 24:5-9). The old loaves were eaten by priests. The loaves given to David (1 Sam 21:1-6) were the old loaves that had just been replaced by fresh ones. Although the priests were the only ones allowed to eat this bread, David and his men were allowed to eat it because of their need for food, showing that laws should be enforced with discernment and compassion.
  5. Matthew 12:5 The Sabbath-work is related to worshiping God, changing the shewbread (Lev 24:8), and doubling the usual daily burnt offerings (Num 28:9f). Hence, the Law itself requires works that break the Sabbath rest (violate the Sabbath) because of the higher duty of God’s service. If temple duties outweigh the Law, how much more does the presence of Jesus with his proclamation of the kingdom (one greater than the temple) justify the conduct of his disciples. If people become more concerned with the means of worship than with the God they worship, they will miss God even while they think they are worshiping him.
  6. Matthew 12:8 Lord of the Sabbath: the ultimate justification for the disciples’ violation of the Sabbath rest is that Jesus is the Son of Man, the Messiah, who has supreme authority over the Law.
  7. Matthew 12:9 By healing the man with a withered hand, Jesus corroborates his teaching: it is licit to do good on the Sabbath; no law can oppose the doing of good. He thus rejects the false interpretation put forth by the Pharisees who are attached to the letter of the Law to the detriment of the glory of God and the good of human beings. The very persons who are scandalized by Christ’s miracle are in no way held back from plotting his death even though it is the Sabbath.
  8. Matthew 12:14 Pharisees . . . began to plot how they might put him to death: even though Matthew does not mention them here, the Herodians were also involved in the plot (see Mk 3:6).
  9. Matthew 12:15 Evidently, at least for a while, Jesus gave up preaching in the synagogues (he departed). The prohibition against making known his miracles was in this case probably due to the wish to avoid conflict with the Pharisees. If we want to understand Jesus’ purpose and way of life, we will find the appropriate images in the Servant Songs of Isaiah; here the second of these (Isa 42:1-4) is cited. Jesus recalled these passages, which are the most profound in the Old Testament, when he thought about and spoke of his mission.
  10. Matthew 12:22 On certain days, Jesus confronts physically, so to speak, the forces of evil that keep human beings enslaved, as in the case of a possessed man rendered deaf and mute. By healing him Jesus shows that he frees people from every type of alienation and possession; he sets back the incursion of evil. How could the Pharisees suspect that Jesus belongs to this world of darkness? Moreover, they admit that their own “children,” i.e., disciples, also fight to free human beings from the powers of evil! When Jesus acts, the Spirit is at work, the kingdom of God is at hand, and everyone must take part in it. The blasphemy against the Spirit consists in ascribing to the devil the work of the Holy Spirit and is the result of becoming hardened in an attitude of refusal, which may one day be irremediable. This warning is given to the Pharisees and, through them, to every reader.
  11. Matthew 12:23 Son of David: see note on Mt 9:27.
  12. Matthew 12:24 Beelzebul: see note on Mt 10:25.
  13. Matthew 12:32 God desires the salvation of all human beings (1 Tim 2:4) and calls everyone to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). Christ’s Redemption is super-abundant satisfaction for all sin and reaches every person (Rom 5:12-21). Christ gave his Church the power to forgive sins through the Sacraments of Baptism and Penance. This power is unlimited; she can forgive every sin of the baptized as often as they confess with the necessary dispositions.
  14. Matthew 12:33 Jesus denounces hypocrites whose words are vanity and calumny. Every spoken word reflects the heart’s overflow and is known to God. Hence words are critically important (see Eph 5:3f, 12; Col 3:17; Jas 1:19; 3:1-12).
  15. Matthew 12:38 An opinion current among circles of apocalyptic thought at the time looked for the Messiah to perform a unique sign. Jesus offers only the sign of his Death and Resurrection typified by the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale (Jon 2:1).
  16. Matthew 12:39 Adulterous: i.e., in the spiritual sense of being unfaithful to the generation’s spiritual husband (God).
  17. Matthew 12:40 Three days and three nights: this manner of speaking denotes a common Jewish way of reckoning time and includes at least part of the first and part of the third day. Any part of the whole was counted as if it were the whole. Thus, even the time from Jesus’ Death till sunset on Good Friday is counted as a day. (The Old Testament depicted the Messiah as one who would suffer [Ps 22; Isa 53] and rise from the dead on the third day [Ps 16:9-11; Isa 53:10f].)
  18. Matthew 12:41 The people of Nineveh who repented (see Jon 3:1-10) and the queen of the south (i.e., of Sheba—see 1 Ki 10:1-3—a country in south-west Arabia now called Yemen) were pagans who responded to lesser opportunities than the one that had been presented to Israel in the person of Jesus, one greater than Jonah or Solomon.
  19. Matthew 12:43 A person’s religious history is a repeated exchange of good and evil. The option for evil can reach the point of taking full possession of the person. The same is true for the religious leaders of Israel. Just cleaning up one’s life without filling it with God leaves plenty of room for Satan to return.
  20. Matthew 12:46 Belonging to Jesus has nothing to do with the bonds of blood relations. The Church is never based on attachments of race, class, or culture. She is the family of God. Only one who does the will of Jesus’ heavenly Father belongs to his true family.
  21. Matthew 12:46 His mother and his brethren: “brethren” here is used in the sense of “cousins” or “relatives.” If they were true brothers of Jesus, sons of Mary, the Gospel would say: “his mother and the sons of his mother,” which was the normal manner of speaking in Israel of that time. The Church has never wavered in her teaching that Mary was a Virgin and that Jesus was her only son, just as he is the only Son of the Father (Lk 1:26).
    In the ancient tongues of Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic, there were no concrete words to indicate the different types of relatives that exist in modern languages. In general, all who belonged to the same family clan, including tribes, were called “brethren” or “sisters.” (See, for example, Jn 19:25, which mentions a certain Mary, sister of Mary the Mother of Jesus. If they were really sisters, they would not bear the same name. Also note that in Mt 27:56, the second Mary is called “the mother of James and Joses” [i.e., Joseph], two personages who are called “brethren” of the Lord in Mt 13:55.)
    In addition, in the first Christian community when the Gospels were written, there existed a very influential group composed of Jesus’ relatives and his countrymen of Nazareth, called the “brethren of the Lord.” The leader seemed to be James, who became bishop of the Judean community. This group was late in believing in Jesus even though they had lived with him for several years (Mk 3:21; Jn 7:3-5). When speaking of them, the evangelists use the name the community gave them: “brethren of the Lord” or “N. brother of Jesus.”
  22. Matthew 12:47 This verse is omitted in some mss.

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