We meet up with Jesus as He and His disciples are walking through a wheat field one fine Saturday morning. I’m assuming this group is on their way to the synagogue, as traveling on the Sabbath was restricted to such endeavors. On the way, some of Jesus disciples do something that gets the attention and scorn of the Pharisees.
First thing I want to know is, what were the Pharisees doing out in this field in the first place. I would expect them to all be living in town and keeping their Sabbath travels to a minimum. Were these Pharisees assigned to follow Jesus wherever He went? Were they accompanying Jesus on His travels? They were definitely NOT His followers, as they looked for every opportunity to find fault with Him or His disciples. Were these the same group who objected to Jesus’ dinner companions while dining at Matthew’s house?
Second question I have is, if Jesus and His disciples are only traveling the allowed distance on the Sabbath, how did some of His disciples became hungry in such a short journey? Did they not have opportunity to have breakfast before they set out on their journey? Were they “stress eating?” Were they just looking for something to occupy their mouth? Were they even hungry?
Mark doesn’t tell us that the disciples are hungry, while Matthew’s account states hunger as the reason for the “harvesting” of the grain. Considering Jesus’ response, I’m inclined to believe the disciples were legitimately hungry when they picked the grain. Probably not starving, as getting enough to fill up on would have taken a lot more than a little plucking here and there.
Jesus’ response brings us back to yesterday’s topic; old versus new. Under the old covenant, the law, what the disciples were doing could technically be described as breaking the Sabbath. They were “harvesting” and “threshing” grain on the Sabbath. Their actions did not rise to the standard of “labor” or work, unless you were being picky. And of course our ever present Pharisees were ALWAYS picky to the extreme!
Jesus was not picking grain, as He lived a life that COMPLETELY met all the requirements of the law. He had to do this to be our sacrifice.
Jesus was quick to point out that God made exceptions in the rules when the need was great. He used the example of one of their “heroes of old” for His example. The story Jesus is referring to can be found in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. In comparing what His disciples were doing with what happened with David, Jesus is saying that His disciples were in real need too, and should be afforded the same grace extended to David.
Jesus went beyond that though. He actually taught at least two other principals here. The first is the reason for the Sabbath and the second is the expectations under the new covenant.
When God made the earth He rested on the 7th day and He declared it holy unto Himself, which became the Sabbath. In the law, God commanded that Israel follow His example by setting aside one day a week as a day of rest and a day devoted to Him. I believe there are a couple of reasons God did this. First of all, God knew that man has a tendency to push the envelope when it comes to working and getting ahead. Without an enforced rest, man would quite literally work until he dropped. With the original bodies that God created for us this wouldn’t have been a problem, but since our bodies began to know decay after sin entered into the picture, our bodies NEED time to rest. God would let man figure this out on his own for many generations, before He established the practice of setting aside one day a week to allow our bodies to recharge and recover from the other six days’ activities.
The second reason for the Sabbath dates back to the time of Noah. As I’m sure you remember, the whole earth was corrupt, except for Noah. I’m going to venture to say that they didn’t think about God at all during their week. Noah and his family alone listened to God. I don’t know how well his sons and their wives listened, but God used Noah’s whole family. God didn’t establish observance of the Sabbath with Noah after they left the ark. He did establish a visible reminder of His promises to man; the rainbow. Man now had oral tradition and a visible reminder to prompt him to ponder the things of God. AFTER Moses and the children of Israel left Egypt, God sent them His law. This is the first time the Sabbath is mentioned and then enforced. God especially established it as a day for His people to focus on Him. Everything about the Sabbath day was to direct man’s attention to his Creator and the promises of God.
Ok, back to Jesus’ answer; “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (verse 27). So when God finally dictated that man follow His example of resting on the seventh day, it was to benefit man, health wise and spiritually. By enforcing this rest man was the beneficiary of all it entailed. 1) He had guaranteed rest from his labor, and 2) he improved his relationship with God. The Sabbath was not made to afflict man but to enhance him.
And the final part of Jesus’ lesson on the Sabbath was that with the New Testament, the rules governing the Sabbath were done away with. The knowledge of all Jesus did for us has increased the focus of the believer to more than one day a week. Paul says to “pray without ceasing.” This certainly tops what was established under the law. Paul’s advice is not a mandate though, but an observation of what is best for our spiritual health.
Man still needs rest, so observing at least one day of rest each week is advisable. I don’t know how many nations in our modern world operate on the weekend days are for rest practice. It used to be observed this way a lot more in our nation’s earlier history. Few people, outside of grocery store and gas station attendants actually worked on weekends, and many of those establishments were actually closed on Sundays. Now it is not uncommon for a person to work seven days a week (often while holding down more than one job), just to have enough income to care for your family. Our societies are seeing the result of our lack of rest too. Declines in health and increasing stress levels, just to name a few.
Father God, thank You for making exceptions to the rules when needs are evident. Thank You that Jesus was able to live up to every part of the law, where we ALWAYS fall short. We had no hope without His intervention.
Thank You that You established the concept of resting for refreshing. I wish we used it appropriately still today. With this mad rush world we have moved away from what is best for us and gone with what we like best, even when it is actually BAD for us. Show me what I can do to help even my little family remember to slow down at least a little bit. Thank You that You remind me every day that You are with me and want to spend time with me. I don’t have to wait until Sunday (or Saturday for those who believe in keeping the Sabbath specifically) to spend time with You. Bring me Your refreshing presence, no matter what day of the week it is. I’m sorry I don’t get to spend Sundays in church anymore. My husband’s health keeps us home, but not away from You in our hearts. Thank You for honoring what we can do and not punishing me for what we can’t. Grace and mercy are so much better that rules and laws!
If I’m not sounding very fluid lately it’s probably due to my own lack of rest. I’m operating on fewer hours of sleep than I should be, trying to be there for my children’s needs. I need to practice what I preach today.