Lord of the Sabbath

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath.
His disciples were hungry
and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them.
When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him,
“See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.”
He said to the them, “Have you not read what David did
when he and his companions were hungry,
how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering,
which neither he nor his companions
but only the priests could lawfully eat?
Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath
the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath
and are innocent?
I say to you, something greater than the temple is here.
If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.
For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
(Matthew 12:1-8)

Scripture Study

12:1–2 The picking of the heads of grain is here equated with reaping, which was forbidden on the sabbath (Ex 34:21).

12:3–4 See 1 Sm 21:2–7. In the Marcan parallel (Mk 2:25–26) the high priest is called Abiathar, although in 1 Samuel this action is attributed to Ahimelech. The Old Testament story is not about a violation of the sabbath rest; its pertinence to this dispute is that a violation of the law was permissible because of David’s men being without food.

12:5–6 This and the following argument (Mt 12:7) are peculiar to Matthew. The temple service seems to be the changing of the showbread on the sabbath (Lv 24:8) and the doubling on the sabbath of the usual daily holocausts (Nm 28:9–10). The argument is that the law itself requires work that breaks the sabbath rest, because of the higher duty of temple service. If temple duties outweigh the sabbath law, how much more does the presence of Jesus, with his proclamation of the kingdom (something greater than the temple), justify the conduct of his disciples.

12:7 Matthew adds the prophetic statement of Hos 6:6 to the Marcan account. If mercy is superior to the temple sacrifices, how much more to the laws of ritual impurity.

12:8 The ultimate justification for the disciples’ violation of the sabbath rest is that Jesus, the Son of Man, has supreme authority over the law.

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.