Luke 6:1-5 – Lord of the Sabbath

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (New International Version)

We Christians tend to be rather hard on the Pharisees. Yet, most of them, much like us, were just trying to uphold their understanding of God’s commands. They wanted to do God’s will. And so did Jesus.

The problem in the New Testament Gospels is that Jesus and some of the Pharisees (not all of them, e.g., Nicodemus) were at loggerheads about how to view and interpret the Law. Jesus wanted them to see the purpose of the law, the heart and spirit of the law, and who was the lord of the law. For Jesus, many of the Pharisees were spiritually blind. They either would not or could not discern who Jesus was and what he was all about.

So, when we refer to spiritual blindness, let’s have a bit of humility about it. Although for the Apostle Paul, a dramatic event happened in which the scales of blindness (both physically and spiritually) fell from his eyes, most folks have a gradual ability to see, an awakening which requires a process of time and growing awareness. This was true of Christ’s original disciples. They believed, yet their faith was an extended process over three years. It wasn’t until after Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost that their faith became complete.

Christ and the Pharisees by Belgian artist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Jesus didn’t like it that those who should know better, those persons for whom the light of God’s truth ought to be clear and present, were in darkness. When leaders are blind, then we have the blind leading the blind, and nobody finds the door of God’s kingdom.

Many of the Pharisees in the New Testament, most of the heretics in the early church, and some of the spiritual phonies of today are actually not charlatans, that is, they are not deliberately trying to deceive or lead others astray; they are not trying to keep people out of God’s kingdom – they think they are doing the right thing when they are actually leading others astray. 

One of the eye-opening realities I discovered, when I first began studying church history, is that the early heresies condemned at the church councils were doctrines promoted and put forth by men who were not evil bad people – they were just sincerely misguided. They thought they were helping the church better understand the nature of God and Christ, when in fact they were promoting unhealthy doctrine – unintentionally closing the door of God’s kingdom to some people. 

And later when I worked on my master’s thesis in nineteenth century American religious history, I read hundreds of sermons from southern preachers before the American Civil War. I learned that they had a biblical defense for the institution of black chattel slavery. Many of them were pastors of large churches and led many people to Christ, that is, white people. They were slamming the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of African-Americans, and teaching others to do the same.

We can unwittingly slam the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of people when we say God’s grace is for all and then turn around and avoid particular people; or whenever we have explicit written statements or rules that exclude people from serving or being served; or when we bind people to human traditions and practices instead of Holy Scripture. 

The seven deadly words of the Church, believing it is doing the Lord’s will, is, “We’ve-never-done-it-that-way-before… We cannot have somebody out in the field picking heads of grain and rubbing them in their hands. That’s reaping; it’s work; and you can’t do that on the Sabbath.”

Never mind that there are people trying to eat or attempting to enter the kingdom of God. So, we lose sight that the Law was meant to benefit people, to help them thrive and flourish, to lead them into the grace and knowledge of God. The Law gets turned on its head by becoming a heavy burden to carry instead of an easy yolk which brings freedom.

No matter the issue, the last word to everything is grace, God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  

Just as the priest in David’s day was gracious in giving him and his men the consecrated bread meant only for the priests, so Jesus was gracious in giving himself, the Bread of Life, for the benefit of the whole world.

For the Christian, the Law points to Christ, who is the Law’s fulfillment. Now, we carry one another’s burdens, and in doing so, we fulfill the Law of Christ.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful: Make us holy through your abiding divine presence. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of the everlasting Gospel. Bring erring souls to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep them steadfast in faith to the end.

Give patience to the sick and afflicted and renew them in body and soul. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you. Increase in us your many gifts of grace and make us all fruitful in good works. This we ask, O blessed Spirit, whom with the Father and the Son we worship and glorify, one God, world without end. Amen.

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