Luke 6:1-11

“One sabbath while Jesus was going through the grainfields, 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.” 

On another sabbath he entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees watched him to see whether he would cure on the sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him. Even though he knew what they were thinking, he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there. 

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” After looking around at all of them, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.” Luke 6:1-11

When we watch the contentious interactions that Jesus had with religious leaders around the observance of the laws of the Sabbath we do well to remember that no one was trying to dishonor God, to destroy traditional practices, or to damage the faith of the faithful. Everyone was doing the best they could within their own sense of what counted as the “best”. That matters.

The Pharisees came at Jesus from a place of suspicion. They were “watching” him. They were watching him in the same way that journalists attend political rallies or listen to political speeches – they look for words, phrases, and ideas they can pounce on in order to attack the speaker. The attack is waged from the point of view of the journalist. That becomes the story. The Pharisees do the same thing.

So do we. We all carry our own sense of right and wrong that has been informed by our own particular education (both formal and informal), histories, life experiences, and prejudices. We “watch” each other, waiting for the other to slip up so we can pounce. We might not pounce physically or even obviously but we all carry an internal guest list and the capacity to cross names off.

Jesus also “watches” very carefully. But notice what he sees as he does so. He sees his disciples plucking the heads of grain to snack on as they walk. Such gleaning was completely accepted, and even expected. It was an ancient form of stopping at a convenience store on a long road trip. He saw hungry friends having something to chew on.

Jesus was well aware of the Sabbath restrictions on working. He just thought that extending those laws to prevent hungry people from eating missed the deeper, and defensible, point of the Sabbath.

Jesus also saw a man with a withered hand enter the synagogue. The Pharisees also saw the man. In their minds, his affliction was a sign of God’s punishment. In Jesus’ mind, there was good to be done and he did it. What better time than the Sabbath to restore a person to wholeness?

In the end, one man left that day rejoicing that God rescued him from the bondage of tying his sandals with one working hand. Another left with more work to be done. And still others left plotting how to punish Jesus.

Here’s the simple question for us – who is our Lord? Whose example will we follow in our lives? Who will we trust in the interpretation of the meaning of religious rules, practices, and traditions?

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, let us never lose sight of keeping the main thing the main thing. Of seeing that your love, poured out in Jesus, drives us to compassion and care rather than condemnation and criticism. May we also see those in need and do what we can to provide relief and release. May we never lose hope that you alone can restore us to wholeness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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