Chapter 2:23-2:28 (ESV) - One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Question to consider: Why did the Pharisees say the disciples were being unlawful in plucking the heads of grain?
If ever there was a subject in which the Pharisees thought they were the experts, it was the Sabbath. The Law declared that no work be done on the Sabbath, and their traditions literally defined what constituted “work” with thirty-nine categories. In plucking heads of grain, the disciples violated the category of “Reaping” which prohibited the cutting or plucking of any growing thing. Even if a fig fell from the tree on its own, you were not to use it until the following day.
However, according to their tradition, Jesus pointed out that they impugned the character of King David since he ate and fed his men from the bread of the Presence when in need. If you think about it, the Pharisees had turned God’s gift and promise of rest from our labors into one of the greatest burdens of all. Instead of finding rest, people feared the repercussions of violating one of these traditions. Ultimately, the Sabbath was meant to point people to Jesus, for He is our Sabbath rest. Through Christ, we are no longer under the burden of the Law, for He has done the work that we were not able to do on our own. Thus, Jesus, who was Lord over the forgiveness of sins, over unclean spirits, over sickness and disease, over teaching and scripture was also Lord over the Sabbath. In proclaiming this, Jesus also established that He was greater than David.
In overruling their traditions, Jesus undercut their entire ministry. One thing that is important to remember is that God did not establish the office of the Pharisee. God established the office of the temple priests (the Sadducees), but during the Babylonian exile there was no temple. The Jews congregated together around the scriptures and worshipped together which eventually gave rise to religious leadership sects like the Pharisees. Even after the temple was rebuilt, synagogues were established as places of worship and allowed the Jews to spread throughout the world instead of being limited to the areas around Jerusalem. These Jews still traveled to Jerusalem during the high holy days, but their weekly Sabbath gatherings were in the synagogues. Jesus did not have a problem with the Pharisees’ teaching the Law in the synagogues. However, He did have a problem with their traditions, especially when they contradicted the Law. It is a sin to put words in the mouth of God. God gave the Law to Moses. He did not give the traditions to the Pharisees. John chapter 8 describes a confrontation Jesus had with the Pharisees in which He declared that though they professed to receive their traditions from God, they had in fact received them from the devil.
Dear heavenly father, please forgive us when we distort or add to Your Law and falsely accuse or judge other people. May we extend to others the same grace and mercy You have shown to us. Please help us to be slow to anger and quick to forgive in Jesus’ Name. Amen.