1 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat. (kjv)
What could be simpler than a group of people walking through a field of grain and being hungry reach out their hands to pull an ear of corn and then to eat? This in itself is not sinful. The laws of Israel allowed for people in need to eat of the produce of another person's field. They cannot however harvest the corn for later consumption. It is an act of mercy to allow the hungry to eat.
2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day. (kjv)
Let's just say the motto of the Pharisees was "in for a penny... in for a pound." The idea of anyone picking anything from a filed on the sabbath day was wrong. Yet in the law God makes a distinction between one person's need and servile work (the doing of some job). Who is it that interprets how the law is to be applied? Why the rabbis of course... the teachers of the law. That is why the Pharisees approached Jesus and asked them why he allowed this supposed breach of the law. The disciples were the students, the disciples of Jesus. Jesus takes this challenge and makes it a teaching moment for the Pharisees.
3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; 4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests? (kjv)
Here it is seen that when there is great need the law must be tempered with mercy for those who are hungry. Strict interpretation of the law would have David killed for the eating of the shewbread. Yet the priest in the temple allowed, gave permission under these circumstances, for David to eat.
5 Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless? (kjv)
God Himself has made distinctions. The priests and Levites could do the work of the temple on the sabbath and not be found guilty of profaning the sabbath. This is based on God's mercy and not judgement. Yes, but you might say that is God who is talking. Jesus in the next verse reveals His authority.
6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple. (kjv)
Who on earth can be greater than the temple? Only one, the person for whom the temple was made. The temple was made for man to worship God. Jesus, who is the Word of God come in the flesh, is God.
7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day. (kjv)
It is one thing to refrain from doing something because you want to honour God. You fast as a sacrifice and God thinks this is good. (Of course this can be abused. Read Isaiah 58 a six part series) But to insist that others follow your strict code of teaching regardless of the consequences is to insist on law and forget mercy. Jesus, who is Lord of the Sabbath, says what the disciples have done is allowed. He extended mercy to the needy. Yet law supercedes need in the heart of these Pharisees.
As they leave the field and enter the town the conflict continues.
9 And when he was departed thence, he went into their synagogue: 10 And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath days? that they might accuse him. 11 And he said unto them, What man shall there be among you, that shall have one sheep, and if it fall into a pit on the sabbath day, will he not lay hold on it, and lift it out? 12 How much then is a man better than a sheep? Wherefore it is lawful to do well on the sabbath days. 13 Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other. (kjv)
Once again the Lord is striving to teach the Pharisees the importance of mercy over a strict interpretation of law. Here is a moment in time. A man in this synagogue. He has a withered hand. Jesus may pass this way only once. He has an opportunity to heal this man now. Will he show mercy or will he hold to their artificial construct of the law? He heals!
There are two lines in Genesis where God is talking to Cain the brother of Abel. It is just after they offered sacrifices to God. God accepts Abel's offering but doesn't look with favour on Cain's. Here are the two lines: "If you do well, will you not be accepted? If not, sin lieth at your door and its desire is for you." Mercy... to do well on the sabbath... is lawful... and you will be accepted. Trying to deny the man his healing on the sabbath is not doing "well." Trying to lay traps for the "Son of God" is not doing "well." Their actions will not be accepted... therefore sin lies at their door. This is rather harsh to say. Yet Law without Mercy is harsh. We are called to "be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect." Yet we are also at the same time asked to extend mercy, not judgement, to our fellow man. Yet, if we fall... God is merciful to us. If we have need... God is merciful.
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Hamilton, Ontario, Canada