At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, ‘Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.’ He said to them, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice”, you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’Matthew 12:1-8
Human beings love rules and regulations. Well, when I say they ‘love’ rules and regulations I really mean that they love the ones that they find convenient. People really love to use rules and regulations to control others, to create the sort of order that they want in their own lives.
In today’s reading we encounter just such a use of the Jewish law. The Pharisees (the ‘experts’ in Jewish law) took the opportunity to criticize the disciples for picking some heads of grain and then eating them. Of course, technically, the Pharisees were right, but what about the needs of those men? Should the rules and regulations be so intransigent that the need of the individual is considered irrelevant?
Jesus reminds the Pharisees of their own history. He recalls the Old Testament account of David and his companions eating the most holy bread in the Temple, just because they were hungry. Then he reminds them that the temple priests are seen as having some sort of dispensation so that they can work in the Temple on the Sabbath. Jesus is, in effect, saying: What’s the difference?
Of course, there is a difference. Jesus is present with his disciples, and he is saying that there are more important things to worry about than the picking and eating of a few heads of grain. And … Jesus is saying that he can make that decision because of who he is.
So, how often have you ranted and railed against the breaking of petty rules and regulations?
And when you have found yourself in that place, how often have you paused to think about the real needs of those who have offended your sense of order?
This is not an easy challenge for us to have to face up to but, if we wish to be true disciples of Christ, we have to let go of our need to be the ones in control.
We have to learn to trust Jesus, because he never gets it wrong!
He really is the Lord of the Sabbath.