At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. 2 When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.”
3 He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests.
5 Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? 6 I tell you that something greater than the temple is here.
7 If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.
8 For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Sabbath law commanded absolute rest, which meant that even menial or minor work was prohibited. Why? Because all people need and deserve rest. And because such laws stood against the laws of the oppressors (in Israel’s history, Egypt) who give no rest. And because if God doesn’t command it, too many will not take it, or more likely, will deprive others of rest.
Sabbath law was ordained for the protection and flourishing of God’s people.
But as with all law, it is easy to define one’s obedience and even one’s righteousness by keeping the letter of the law rather than working to achieve its original intent and spirit. And that’s part of what Jesus suggests has happened in his day. Jesus is asserting that there are exceptions to the law.
Say what?!?! I imagine Jesus’s audience of Pharisees saying, “Did Jesus just say that he is greater than the priests and even than King David?!?” Yeah, that’s exactly what Jesus is saying as he goes on to announce that he, the Son of Man, is Lord of the Sabbath.
Suddenly it’s easier to see some of the reasons for the growing antagonism between Jesus and the religious rulers of his time. This is about more than an assertion of authority or growing tension. Because Jesus declares himself not just “Lord” in general, but “Lord of the Sabbath.” The one who not only has authority over the Sabbath but also the one who has authority for the Sabbath; the one, that is, who will achieve the purpose of the Sabbath and bring it to fulfillment.
Jesus is the one and only place weary souls to find actual rest – the rest of contentment and acceptance and forgiveness and grace. For this reason, He is Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is the one who breaks it in order to keep it, who remembers its intent and fulfills it, who accomplishes its end more fully than all the laws of the Sabbath ever could. How will you honor the Sabbath?