Lord of the Sabbath

While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath,
his disciples were picking the heads of grain,
rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.
Some Pharisees said,
“Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”
Jesus said to them in reply,
“Have you not read what David did
when he and those who were with him were hungry?
How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering,
which only the priests could lawfully eat,
ate of it, and shared it with his companions?”
Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
(Luke 6:1-5)

Scripture Study

6:1 sabbath: Under the Old Covenant, every seventh day (Saturday) was set aside for worship and rest; and no man, woman, slave, or beast was permitted to work (Gen 2:3; Ex 20:8–11; Deut 5:12–15). By NT times, Sabbath observance was greatly emphasized as a symbol of Israel’s unique relationship with God. The Pharisees made Sabbath observance a benchmark of Jewish faithfulness and added a multitude of precepts that differentiated between lawful and unlawful behavior. Even the slightest infraction of these Sabbath standards would bring one’s religious commitment into question in the eyes of the Pharisees. Jesus, though frequently accused of disregarding the Sabbath, acts out the true meaning of the Sabbath by restoring and giving rest to suffering individuals on this day.

6:2 unlawful: The Pharisees equate plucking grain with harvesting it. In their view, the disciples violated God’s commandment to abstain from gathering crops (Ex 34:21).

6:3 Have you not read: The question is intentionally sarcastic and would be taken as an insult by the well-educated Pharisees. what David did: Jesus appeals to a scriptural precedent from 1 Sam 21:1–6. ● The legal exception once made for King David and his men to eat holy bread permits Jesus and his disciples to eat grain on the holy day of Sabbath. In both cases the strict regulations of the Torah were allowed to bend to meet a pressing need (hunger) and to serve the anointed king of Israel (David and Jesus).

6:4 the bread offering: Twelve cakes of bread were replaced weekly in the Temple (Ex 25:30). When new loaves were set out on the Sabbath, Levitical priests ate the old ones (Lev 24:5–9). David and his men were permitted to breach this Levitical legislation by eating the bread reserved only for priests (1 Sam 21:6).

6:5 Son of man: Hints at Jesus’ messianic authority.

Scripture Reflection

Again and again in the Gospels, Jesus is portrayed as violating the sacred command to rest on the seventh day. For example, he often cures on the Sabbath, much to the dismay of the protectors of Jewish law.

And then in today’s Gospel, after his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath, Jesus declares himself “Lord of the Sabbath.” It’s hard to express how breathtaking this claim would be for a first-century Jew to make. Yahweh alone could be assigned the title “Lord of the Sabbath,” so what is Jesus implying?

In short, he is claiming that he is above their rituals, even perhaps the defining practice of pious Jews, because he is the Lord. Thus the rules must be placed in subordination to the kingdom of God, the kingdom that the Lord Jesus is ushering in even here and now.

– Bishop Robert Barron

May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.