23One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
This passage, and story, goes along with the previous discussion – (remember, always taking things in context?) – Mark has talked about the scribes and Pharisees questioning Jesus about breaking traditions (they considered them laws, but they were their interpretation of the laws) by eating with tax collectors and sinners, and about telling the paralyzed man his sins were forgiven; then his dinner with Levi and his friends had prompted another question, why were they not fasting? We discussed Jesus’ response to that question yesterday – the new patch cannot be sewn onto an old garment or the new wine put into old wineskins. In this example as well, the Pharisees are bringing out the old wineskins of their interpretation of Sabbath, their tradition – and Jesus defies their interpretation.
As they walk through the grain fields they pick handfuls of grain to munch.(They did not have what we call “corn”, even though some translations use that word; remember that came from the New World 1500 years later.) I can’t imagine that raw barley or wheat, unground, could be very tasty, nor could they pick enough to actually be satisfying – they were just idly munching on grain as they continued their walk, quite possibly to the synagogue. But the Pharisees, by now ready to pounce on any small infraction, and on the alert for even the smallest, attack them for “working” (plucking grain) on the Sabbath. “This is unlawful!” they say.
Jesus responds to their attack by pointing out a time when David broke the law to give his followers something to eat – don’t they understand that sometimes the needs of the people are greater than the law? Have they no compassion? The Sabbath was made for the people, to give them a time of rest, a time to come to God; it was not the other way around – the people were not made for the Sabbath. And when it comes to the real answer – Jesus, the Son of Man, is Lord, even of the Sabbath.
In Chapter 1, there were four examples of Jesus’ healing; in Chapter 2, there are four examples of Jesus redefining the Law, or at least the Pharisaical tradition of it. In each of the four healings, Jesus acts out of compassion. In each of the examples in Chapter 2, Jesus acts out of compassion – love and inclusion are more important than rigidity and exclusion; caring is more important than strict adherence to a legalistic code. We would do well to remember this today. We are called to care for one another and for our neighbor; we are called to be inclusive, not to be judgmental Pharisees.