Jesus Is Lord of the Sabbath
6 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
3 Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 5 Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Observations & Reflections
What is striking about this passage at first read is that Jesus and the apostles were walking through and eating grain from a field that has no identified owner. That would be considered a crime in America. However, in Jewish law it was permissible to pluck and eat heads of grain. In fact, Jewish culture even permitted collecting whole bundles of grain if one is poor, widowed, or a foreigner.
If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain. (Deuteronomy 23:24-25)
It’s quite interesting how many laws were given by God that would be considered illegal in today’s culture or restrictions that we allow such as charging interest on loans.
Either way, it appears that Jesus’ behavior was lawful and it also appears that He was not in violation of any of the Mosaic laws. He was in violation of what some would call the oral law or non-biblical laws. After the Jews got exiled by the Babylonians they blamed the ordeal on not adhering to the law of Moses. When they returned to the land 70 years later, new reformed were created and new “barriers” outside of the Mosaic law were created to make sure people did not even come close to breaking the Torah.
However, by Jesus’ time these complex laws were no longer serving the public. Rather, they were used by the religious elite to dominate the ordinary people. This is why Jesus spent so much time combating the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes.
After Jesus is confronted on the Sabbath He corrects the accusers and says something rather simple but profound.
“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:3)
At face value one would assume Jesus is referring to Himself. However, it makes more sense that Jesus is referring to mankind. In Mark, this saying is expanded slightly. Matthew as well gives more detail.
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)
“I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. 7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:6-8)
Unfortunately Matthew and Mark expand on this passage but not in a helpful way. It would appear that Mark’s version is the original but Matthew must have had extra sources to work with. In Matthew’s passage appears to use this instance as a messianic lesson. In the other two gospels it is clear that Jesus is correcting the religious leaders on the point of the Sabbath, which was clearly communicated in Mark.
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. “
This is why it is important to remember that the Sabbath was created for man to rest and to be in fellowship with the Lord. When we turn it into a punishment then the Sabbath becomes useless and no longer serves its original purpose. Here Jesus is redirecting us to the spirit of the law, not the legalism of it. We should all take note of Jesus’ tendency to emphasize the purpose of the laws, not the rigid adherence to them.