Good Morning!If you missed it, or are not in the Keys – the Cantata presented by the Keys community Choir and Orchestra at our church was wonderful! They will be presenting again at Venture Out on Wednesday night and at Saint Peters on Thursday.
One sabbath* while Jesus* was going through the cornfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. 2But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful* on the sabbath?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’ 5Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’
We have seen two examples of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees over eating practices – Jesus ate with sinners, and feasted while others fasted. We pointed out that dining practices were essential to Jewish identity as faithful followers of God, and to their maintaining separation from “Gentiles”, or others who did not worship the one true God. The second major area that was essential to Jewish identity and separation was that of the observance of the Sabbath. For Orthodox Jews, these still apply. I read a novel about a Jewish boy (The Chosen, Chaim Potok), who was considering making friends with another boy outside his synagogue; the question the boy’s family asked was, “Does his family observe Sabbath?”
There was, however, a great deal of variation in the interpretation of the Sabbath laws, with the Pharisees having the strictest interpretation. They had a list of rules to be obeyed – what defined work? How many steps could one take? The disciples are walking with Jesus through a grain-field, where the pick a handful of grain and rub it between their hands to remove the chaff, and then munch on the raw grain. (Here, “corn” is used as a generic for “grain”; there was no corn as we know it in the Middle East in the 1st century. The grain is likely wheat or barley.) Luke points out that they did this because they were hungry. It was legal, and expected, that a hungry person could pick grain enough to satisfy his immediate hunger when walking through or past a grain field. The problem, then, was not their taking the grain and eating it, but that they did this on the Sabbath. First, the Pharisees may have objected to how far they walked – one was not supposed to travel on the Sabbath, by Pharisaical rules. But secondly, the act of picking a handful of grain was considered “harvesting” by these same rules, and the act of rubbing the grain to remove the chaff “winnowing”. Both harvesting and winnowing grain was considered work and therefore unlawful on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees have, by this point, taken to watching Jesus’ every move. The conflict has escalated – they are now looking for things to criticize. Are there people in the church today whom others are watching every minute, just waiting for them to make a mistake? I have known pastors who feel that – and with the social media today, even well known pastors face that kind of scrutiny. I might remind us all that Jesus is about loving one another, not about pouncing on another person’s mistakes, or even statements with which you disagree. The Pharisees are ready to pounce. And so, they ask a pointed question, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?”
Jesus replies with an example from Scripture, when David broke the law in order to feed the hungry in his party. He took bread from the altar, surely a greater trespass than picking wheat as they walked through a field! But then Jesus says, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus again makes his claim to being the Messiah, the one who is ruler over even Sabbath laws. In Jesus’ kingdom, feeding the hungry is more important than the rules of separation; dining with sinners, loving and accepting them is more important than rules of separation. We must look to his example, rather than, like the Pharisees, making up more laws!