One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. – Mark 2:23-3:6
My Sunday School teacher made a big impression on me. He was a carpenter. Calloused hands. No queen’s English. Sincere. Dedicated. Faithful. I recall him asking us boys if it was OK to go fishing on Sunday. Granted, these were the days of Blue Laws, and no open stores on Sundays. I didn’t think he meant taking the day off, going to the lake all day. I took him to ask whether it was it OK to go fishing on Sunday afternoon. Period.
Now I wonder. Maybe he was thinking we would miss the Sunday evening service if we chose to go. I think, today, he meant for us to realize going fishing on Sunday was not a good thing to do because we would not be able to follow the godly rhythm of worship and rest before taking on the week ahead.
A photo buddy of mine is a dedicated Christian who was planning to build a house in Colorado. He had drawn up the plans. He had the land. I gather that he had the money as well. But he told me that he and his wife had committed to teaching a Sunday School class. They knew that if they built the house they would abandon their class at least 50% of the time. The plans went in a drawer. The land remains undeveloped.
Jesus challenged the Sabbath laws for an entirely different reason. The people of his day had turned these laws upside down. They had made these laws so formalistic that one could travel 1499 paces from his home, but not take the next step; otherwise they would break the Sabbath. Carry 4 sticks of wood: OK. But don’t take a 5th, or else you’re breaking the Sabbath law. The law became more important than love.
In the face of their objections Jesus makes two points. He is Lord of the sabbath. It’s his law. He will define what it means – not even the best rabbis would dare try to instruct God! And it is always good to do good. Always. Keeping the sabbath or helping your neighbor in need. And when it comes to loving God, the best way we can show our love for God is to love our neighbor.