Sheep in the Pit — What Do You Do?

by Eric M. Hamilton
via A Whisper After the Fire

Is it possible to come across a situation where the right thing to do would be to let something evil happen? Or the wrong thing to do would be to let a good thing happen? It may seem ridiculous that questions like that should even be asked, but they are asked all the time in regard to the law.

"If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?" (Matthew 12:11 NIV).

You have a situation where a sheep falls into a pit, but it’s the Sabbath. What do you do? Any other day of the week, this would not be a hard decision. You would lift the sheep out. But the Jews were forbidden by the law to do work on the Sabbath. You could make the argument that lifting a sheep out of a pit takes effort and is, therefore, work … and is, therefore, forbidden.

So what is the right thing to do? To be merciful to the animal and pull it out? Or to follow the law and refuse to help it, and let it die?

To the man who has common sense, this is one of the most ridiculous questions to be asked: “Why is there any discussion being made about what is right? Clearly, the right thing to do is to help the sheep regardless of the day.”

But this is commonly where religious legalism, dogma, whatever you want to call it, frequently leads people who genuinely want to do what’s right, but find this apparent contradiction between common sense and a strict narrow interpretation of a religious commandment. So it becomes a real conundrum for them: “The law told me not to work on the Sabbath, and following the law is right, therefore I’m actually doing the right thing by doing nothing and letting the sheep die, even though it seems cruel. It was actually the good thing to do, because God told me to.”

This is also why so many people are turned off by “religion” because sooner or later religious people end up debating whether doing something evil is actually good according to religious law. And it’s a disgusting and off-putting discussion to consider, much less engage into those on the outside.

Jesus continues his statement by saying:

"How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Matthew 12:12 NIV).

It is always, ALWAYS lawful to do good. There should never be a question! If your interpretation of Scripture leads you to the conclusion that to do the right thing, you must then do an evil thing, you have not interpreted Scripture correctly. It is always lawful to do good.


This is how Paul put it:

"The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law" (Galatians 5:22-23 NET).

There is no law of God that prevents, circumvents, or forbids you from doing good.

[Matthew 12:9-14]
[Galatians 5:22-23]

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