Again, in today’s reading Jesus is being criticized by the Pharisees, and this time it is for his disciples breaking the law regarding harvesting on the Sabbath. Well, its not really harvesting, its gleaning a few grains of wheat. A while back I tried to find out exactly what the law was concerning harvesting on the Sabbath, and that research indicated that the laws are quite complex . Jesus likely could have used examples from those laws to defend his disciples actions, but he chose to use the example of King David and his troops consuming the consecrated temple bread. He pulls the argument away from the court of law, and towards the temple of God. He then finishes with the declaration that man is not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man. By declaring that, He directs the discussion with the Pharisees into a proper order. First, from the courthouse and into the house of God. Second, he placed the reason for the Sabbath above those laws surrounding it. That Sabbath day was and is important, and its importance is precisely why there were laws that people were obligated to follow. It is a day of solemn rest, holy to the Lord. The problem though, is that laws can be compounded to the point where they hinder rather than enhance the Sabbath. Laws and traditions can take on a life of their own, far removed from their original intent. That was true centuries ago, and still holds true today.
As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the Sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
When Jesus states that the Sabbath was made for man, he points back to that original intention of the day. The Sabbath came from the story of creation where God looks at all he created, and saw that it was good, and then rested. The intent was to follow the example of creation, and to rest in the goodness of the God of creation. It was to set aside a day to focus on God, and to put lives back into perspective. The day indeed is for mans benefit; restful reflection in honoring the Lord.
Going against the Pharisees, Jesus is reclaiming that day for its rightful purpose and I have to think that the concern was that the purpose was being distorted by the laws surrounding it. To look at it in a contemporary perspective, I can look at today’s Sabbath and the Sunday that follows, and I can look at holidays such as Christmas. Today’s weekend, the Sabbath and Sunday, has largely been reduced to the weekend where businesses largely close and people simply take a break from work. Though the days still are ones where work stops, the reason that work stops has shifted. The religious laws of the Pharisees have simply been replaced with the labor laws of the state. The same change also is occurring with the Christmas season as it shifts from a season centered on the Nativity to a secular shopping season. The fault is not with the laws per say, but with the shifted focus of those days. Those days are dedicated to God, they are days of rest and rejuvenation that are necessary components of life, and importantly they are days to strengthen family bonds.