February 9, 2015
One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 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.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
These Sabbath arguments in the grain fields and later in the synagogue were not really about the Sabbath. The arguments were about the nature and character of God. What is God like? Better still, who is God like? This supremely matters because we will become like who we think God is like.
Is God like the Pharisees? Or is God like Jesus? Jesus and the Pharisees had one thing in common. They were both doing their dead level best to show people who God was and what God was like. The Pharisees appealed to the authority of the rules. Jesus demonstrated the authority of a distinctive way of ruling.
The Pharisees were all about “God’s rules.” Jesus was all about “God’s Rule.”
To be clear, I’m not trying to establish some kind of polarity with my analysis here (i.e. Pharisees bad. Jesus good.) The Pharisees profoundly committed themselves to God and to the renewal of God’s people. They believed the Messiah would come in response to Israel’s faithfulness to all of the Law of God. The Scribes and Pharisees made it their business to study and interpret the Law and to teach it to the people and to do it; right down to the smallest detail.
Today’s text gives us two examples of this. Picture something as simple and virtually unnoticeable as a person walking through a field, breaking off a head of grain and rubbing it in their hands to free the grain from the husk, and all of this in order to snack on the few grains. The Pharisees had actually made a determination based on the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy; on it you shall do no work. . .” that this little snack making process constituted “work,” making it a violation of the Sabbath command.
The Pharisees determine the nature of the Rule of God by their interpretation of the rules of God. Watch how Jesus responds to the Pharisees allegations.
“Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 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.”
Jesus interprets the rules of God (or the Law) through his understanding of the nature of the Rule of God. He is saying in this instance, the rule of David and his approach to the rules (sans Bathsheba) looks more like the Rule of God than what you Pharisees are pushing. He takes one more massive step though.
Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Can I translate that for us? He is saying, “I AM THE RULE OF GOD.” Jesus is going about preaching, teaching, healing, confronting, rebuking, comforting and in all of this he is revealing the true nature of the rule of God. This rule is all about what is best for people: freedom for captives, release for prisoners, sight for the blind, good news for the poor and on it goes. The rules of God must be interpreted in accordance with the Rule of God. And lest we think Jesus was somehow going soft on the rules, let’s remember what he had to say about murder being anger and adultery being lust.
The Law, or the rules of God, can be brought down to one thing with two dimensions. The one thing: LOVE. The two dimensions: Love for God and love for others. It corresponds with the Rule of God which can be brought down to one thing with two dimensions. The one thing: LOVE. The two dimensions: God’s love for and within himself as Trinity and God’s love for his whole creation, and his image bearers chiefly among it.
This second Sabbath story drives the point home. His question to the Pharisees says it all:
“I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
The Rule of God is always about doing good and saving life. We must therefore interpret the rules accordingly. Jesus demonstrates:
He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored.
The big problem with the Pharisees, then and now, is they get so caught up in the rules they lose sight of the Ruler. It produces a dangerously ironic outcome. In trying to keep the rules you can actually do evil and destroy life. Isn’t that what’s going on here– and on the Sabbath of all days?
But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.
We all know where this is headed. The enforcers of the rules will wind up crucifying the Ruler. (And they will get it done just in time to celebrate Sabbath).
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