Grains of Wheat


Mt 12:1-8
At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began .
to pick the heads of grain and eat them.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath.”
He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry,
how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat?
Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the Sabbath and are innocent?
I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Shabbat is the seventh day of the Jewish week and is the Jewish “day of rest.” It begins just before sunset on Friday and ends with the appearance of the stars on Saturday. It begins with the lighting of the candles, and Kiddush the reciting of the blessing over wine and two loves of  challah bread.
Jewish law  prohibits doing any form of melakhah  on Shabbat, with some exceptions. Melakhah translates as work in English .  Deliberate activity or skill and craftsmanship might be a more accurate definition of melakhah. There are 39 principal categories of these  prohibited categories of activities. They are:
ploughing earth, sowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, shearing wool, washing wool, beating wool, dyeing wool, spinning, weaving, making two loops, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying, untying, sewing stitches, tearing, trapping, slaughtering, flaying, tanning, scraping hide, marking hides, cutting hide to shape, writing two or more letters, erasing two or more letters, building, demolishing, extinguishing a fire, kindling a fire, putting the finishing touch on an object and transporting an object between the private domain and the public domain, or for a distance of 4 cubits within the public domain. (adapted from Wikipedia)

When the Pharisee confronted Jesus and his disciples, which prohibited activity did they violate as they were feeding or eating the grain? To the Pharisee it likely  was either Reaping, threshing,winnowing, or selecting: These are the four that might be applied to picking a piece of grain and eating it.Winnowing applies exclusively to the separation of chaff from grain. Selecting is the separation of debris from grain; or more accurately the separation of edible from inedible. Reaping is the harvesting of grain. Threshing is selecting though by a mechanical means. Selecting and Reaping are likely the two violations that the Pharisee found. Wow! It took a lot of  skilled work to narrow that down! 

Could it be in the Pharisee’s dedication to looking for violations of the law, he missed the point of the Sabbath? The meaning of the Sabbath was to commemorate Gods creation , to commemorate the Israelites freedom from slavery, and gain a glimpse of the “Messianic Age. ” Sabbath is held to honor and celebrate God and to remind man of all God has done for them. It is a time to honor and worship god, not for ritualistic sacrifices . Prophets and Psalmists repeatedly warn to rend hearts, not garments; to offer a pure and contrite heart, not animal sacrifices. If a religious observance does not lead toward the worship of God, does it serve any purpose?For the law to be purposeful, does it not need to be followed in the “spirit of the Law?”

The Pharisee’s attack had nothing to do with the intent of the Sabbath, it was in itself a violation of it.That persecution, that allegation had serious consequences in that age: punishment for violation of the Sabbath was death by stoning.Chances are the skilled manipulation of these laws by unscrupulous ”religious” leaders indeed were used to accomplish dubious aims rather that to lead a people towards God. Read a newspaper, that practice continues today.Was the Pharisee using the Sabbath law to Honor God, or was it being used to serve himself?

Jesus in his rebuttal points that he is indeed observing the Sabbath.His teaching of those innocent men, his disciples, is to lead them to God and to free them from the burden of ritual. In declaring that “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” his challenge is directed against temple culture and law and towards God and the Spirit of God.As “Lord of the Sabbath”, Jesus is Messiah again reaffirming that “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The  definition of Messianic Age is that kingdom of God realized. It is the mission of these disciples, who fed on a few grains of wheat, to labor for that Kingdom, and in that labor they truly honor the Sabbath.

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