One sabbath while Jesus was going through the cornfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’ Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’
What do you do on the Sabbath? Drive or cycle somewhere? Walk your dog? Phone a friend? Skype family? Cook dinner? Watch or play sport? Knit? Play Minecraft? Some people would say that these activities violate the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy. “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:9-10a NIV) In an effort to keep this commandment, a lot of thought has been put into describing what exactly is “work.” For some, anything that requires physical effort on your part or use of electricity violates this commandment. But Jesus challenged this view.
The story about David and the bread comes from 1 Samuel 21. Every Sabbath, the priests baked 12 loaves and placed them on a table. The old loaves would then be for the priests to eat. This Torah law was about ensuring the priests had food. So when the priest gives this bread to David and his men, he is sharing his own food with someone in need. The heart of the Law allowed the priest to do that. The bread was part of the priestly duties on the Sabbath.
Similarly, Jesus calls people back to the heart of the Sabbath. There was nothing illegal about Jesus plucking grain, separating the chaff and wheat in his hands, and eating it as they walked along. The only issue was that threshing and winnowing wheat on the sabbath wasn’t allowed. So surely winnowing wheat in your hands was also not allowed? Like the priests in the Temple baking bread, Jesus and his disciples were doing God’s work and serving God’s people. Like priests, they needed to be able to eat to continue to serve God and God’s people.
As part of the “priesthood of all believers”, how would you apply this teaching in your life?
God, in this world that demands our attention, help us to develop a sustaining Sabbath rest rhythm that refreshes and energises us. Amen
The Rev’d Angela Rigby, minister at St Johns Hill URC Sevenoaks and Christ Church URC Tonbridge