Luke 6:1-5 (NIV) 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.”
The Pharisees had ringed the Sabbath with a whole suite of rules to ensure that people didn’t inadvertently sin by doing some kind of work on that day. They had rules for how far a person could walk on the Sabbath before it crossed the line and became work, as well as long lists of forbidden activities.
The Pharisees were not worried that the disciple were stealing grain. A hungry person was actually allowed to pull off heads of grain in someone else’s field, as long as they didn’t use a sickle (Deuteronomy 23:25), or to pull grapes off a vine to eat, as long as they didn’t put any into a basket to take away (Deuteronomy 23:24). But, to the Pharisees, pulling the heads of grain off constituted harvesting; rubbing the chaff off the grain constituted winnowing; and chewing the raw grains constituted grinding flour; all of which were, according to them, classified as work, and therefore not allowed on the Sabbath.
Interestingly, Jesus didn’t argue with them about their interpretation of the law. He turned their attention instead to another instance where God allowed a clear need to be met in spite of the rules. In this instance (1 Samuel 21:1-6), David was fleeing from Saul and had no supplies for him and his men. He approached Ahimelech the priest at Nob, asking for any food that might be available. All the priest had was the bread of the presence which had just been replaced with fresh loaves that day. Normally only the priests could eat that bread, but Ahimelech allowed David and his men to eat it, actually sacrificing his own food because of their apparent need.
Jesus’ point was not that God’s clear commands don’t matter. His point was that if God was willing to relax a rule in order to meet a genuine human need out of compassion, the Pharisees should be willing to do the same with their own rules regarding what was permissible on the Sabbath.
Father, it’s clear that this wasn’t primarily about permission to break rules or commandments (You don’t, for instance, approve of stealing, even by a hungry person), but about compassion for genuine need, and about being willing to receive Your gracious provision, even on the Sabbath. You are a great and compassionate God, and I praise You today. Amen.