Fourth, Jesus is criticized by Pharisees for doing work on the Sabbath and breaking Sabbath law —
23One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
This is similar to what we saw the previous group doing. Yet, this one seems even more nit picky. All they did was to pick some heads of grain. A very small act. Back then, not working on the Sabbath was a big deal because everyone had to work in the fields each day for food. So that was a significant thing.
Today, it’s not hard to keep the Sabbath in the sense of doing no work. I had one youth pastor that told us that we should not study on Sundays. And he was talking to Korean kids in high school who all wanted to go to Ivy League schools. You can guess how that flied at our church. All the Korean parents expected that we studied as soon as we got home on Sunday. Needless to say, that youth pastor didn’t last very long at that church.
Not doing any work on the Sabbath. Some argue that you should not go to the groceries because you are condoning others who are working on the Sabbath. A very small thing, whether to shop for food on Sunday or not. Yet, some make such a big deal out of a small thing. And they look down on people who go to groceries after church. If you are a student and you have a test tomorrow, I would say, still, you should come to church. But you can leave right after service if you really need to study. Yet, some will make a big deal about how students should not do any work on Sundays because keeping the Sabbath is really important to them.
Again, it’s this selective elevation of whatever laws work for us and making them out to be more than they intended to be. Sabbath was not supposed to be so stringent that you would ignore a person in need. Sorry, man, it’s Sunday, come back tomorrow and I can definitely help you. That’s ridiculous. But it happens all the time. We so easily latch onto something that we are good at and we start emphasizing that one thing and begin criticizing people who break that one law.
The whole point of the Sabbath for the nation of Israel is to remind them that they are not like other nations. That they are set apart, that they are called out and holy. But holiness was not the end. It was so that they could be refreshed spiritually and go back out to the world and to be a witness of God. A witness of his holiness, his grace, his compassion, his love. To draw people from all nations to Him.
Elsewhere, we see that this end goal of being a witness was totally lost and they missed the whole point of why keeping the Sabbath law was important. For example, Jesus would heal on the Sabbath and these religious leaders would be up in arms. How could he heal? And Jesus’ rebuke of them was basically, is it more significant that I broke the Sabbath law or is it more significant that I had compassion on this man?
In this particular case, Jesus’ responds in v25 —
25He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 27Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Religion can make us into monsters who are more concerned about feeling good about ourselves and superior to others than really connecting with God and having true compassion to others. These godly intentions behind the law are far more important than keeping the laws themselves. Thank God that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and not the other way around.