The day set aside for worship and celebration and feasting and joy. All other days we make money but on this day we make whoopee. We dress up in fancy clothes and drink good wine and sing and laugh and worship and dance, because life is a gift that’s worth celebrating as often as we can.
God had given Israel laws for most of how to live and act in godly society, laws that were meant to teach the Israelites how to protect and serve one another in love. But the Sabbath remained almost entirely unregulated in Scripture, left alone to be a vast, open cathedral of time and space, reserved only for worship and laughter and love. And for ancient Israel, a day without a schedule, an agenda, or rules regulating it seemed a little purposeless or easy to abuse.
The Sabbath was meant to be a rest day, but it was becoming a complicated day because there was so little in Scripture about how to use it. So the Jews had developed thirty-nine Rules on what could and could not be done on the Sabbath day. And after they’d debated and worried and worked to protect it, the Sabbath had started to look less like a soaring cathedral and more like a rose that’s been placed under a cloche, intended to grow and flourish but so well protected that all you can do is gaze at it and imagine how sweetly it would smell if you were to break the glass.
“The Rules for the Sabbath are like mountains hanging by a hair,” said Jewish literature, “for Scripture is scanty and the Rules are many.”
Breaking the Rules of the Sabbath was considered a capital offence unless your life was on the line. And in this story, Jesus’ disciples weren’t in danger of starvation. They were just hungry. And picking heads of grain on the Sabbath...was in clear violation of the Rules.
We tend to think of them as bad guys, the hypocrites, but they started out as good guys. Pharisees were the most powerful of the Jewish sects, the ones with the loudest voices when they prayed in the temple, the orthodoxest of the Jews. But after awhile, they started to believe that the world would be a lot holier if it looked more like them and less like thou. They became the Goody Two Shoes, known for taking the front rows in temple, for keeping the Law to its last jot and tittle, and for piling tradition on top of expectation on top of the Rules so that the Law was almost too heavy to bear.
No wonder the people flocked to the Rabbi whose burden was light.
So here they are in Galilee where we lay our scene. Jesus grew up in lower Galilee; he had the home-turf advantage on this one. This was the most pagan of all the Jewish regions, though curiously enough, more famous rabbis came out of this area than any other. And Galileans weren’t exactly known for being gentle, meek, or mild. They were famously religious, zealously courageous, and unswervingly nationalistic. Galileans were known to shake things up, to start forest fires, to plot out violent uprisings and coup d’etats from time to time.
For people like the Pharisees who were trying to keep the delicate peace with Rome, Galileans were a threat. Jesus was a threat. If there was going to be trouble - and there was clearly going to be trouble - it made sense it would start with a charismatic Galilean who could attract the masses to him like a magnet.
The Pharisees were watching Jesus. And there weren’t many Pharisees in these pagan parts, so they were probably watching on purpose, trailing the rabble rouser and his disciples to see what they would do next.
They question his understanding of the Sabbath Rules. It would have been a natural question - Galileans weren’t always known for their orthodox exegetical work. Let’s just say...they were considered a little more loosey goosey with the Law when it didn’t serve their purposes. And this Galilean was clearly pushing the bounds of the Rules.
So, in response, Jesus flips the tables and questions their understanding of the whole of Scripture itself.
Haven’t you read the story? Don’t you remember that David did this too?
Because David, if you remember as they would have, had gone to the tabernacle for bread because he was hungry. And even their great king had broken the letter of the law by eating bread reserved for priests. If David could do it, then how much more could he?
Jesus sets himself up as the authority over the temple, over the Sabbath, over the whole of the Law. “One greater than the temple is here,” he’d said.
Blasphemy. Who does he think he is...God himself?
The Pharisees were used to things going their way, used to keeping the peace between their people and the powers of Rome, used to maintaining order and protecting their kind by keeping everyone else in perfectly straight lines. But this Jesus was stepping out of line, and if Rome got wind of it, he might just get everybody killed.
Better to keep our heads down and our people quiet than to attract Roman attention. We have to keep the delicate balance balanced.
Ssssshhh, Jesus. Quiet, please.
And we too sometimes find ourselves afraid of acting out, of speaking out, of breaking the Rules that keep the peace when our in-laws disagree, when our co-workers disagree, when our friends don’t want to hear about this Jesus we’ve built our lives on. And if you’re anything like me, sometimes it's easier not to say anything about Christ’s love than to risk ruining a relationship or our precious reputations. Sometimes it’s easier to keep him quiet than to risk learning something about myself I didn’t want to. So. We keep our heads down and our Christ in line. We don’t want to mess with the Rules.
Sssshhh, Jesus. Quiet please.
Pastor Brynn Harrington
What “social norm” would you be willing to break for the Gospel? Which ones feel too scary to consider disturbing right now?
Lord Jesus, increase my faith! Give me the wisdom to know what is of you, and what Rules were put into place to keep the kingdom docile and sterile. Lord, give me the courage to fight the fight of faith, to boldly walk into the kingdom of darkness and to do as much damage to it for the Gospel as I can. Give me the courage to pick heads of grain, even if people I respect shake their heads at me in disapproval. In your strong name I pray, Amen.
Today is Friday again. We invite you to consider fasting again today in a way that is medically and/or professionally responsible until dinnertime. There are many options: Fast from processed sugars. Fast from meat. Fast from dairy or fatty foods. Fast from music or entertainment technology such as Facebook, TV, etc. Pick something where you will notice its absence a little more than last Friday’s fast. And then we'd invite you to break the fast and enjoy the freedom we have to celebrate and feast during Sabbath tonight at our Shabbat (Sabbath) Dinner.
Pastor Aaron Engler
Choung, James. True Story.
1 Macc. 2:31-41.
1 Sam. 21:6.