Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus’ early conflicts with the scribes and Pharisees culminate in this section. In particular, controversies involving food: whom he eats with (tax collectors and sinners), when he eats or doesn’t eat (not fasting like Pharisees or followers of John), and now how he eats heads of grain plucked on the Sabbath. As with other complaints, Jesus answers his accusers to reveal far more himself than anyone expected. Sabbath issues may seem obscure to us, but they were paramount in Israel and are central for the culture of our church.
The New David
The disciples pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath which the Pharisees say is unlawful (vv23-24). It isn’t, but Jesus grants it for the sake of argument in order to make a bigger one (Dt.23:25). David and his men ate the showbread designated for the priests from the tabernacle, God’s house (1 Sam. 21:1-6). Why were they hungry? Though anointed king by Samuel, David was not yet enthroned but running for his life from Saul. Jesus compares himself and his disciples to David. He is not randomly breaking the Sabbath, but giving a deliberate sign: God’s righteous King is here, anointed, persecuted, yet to be enthroned. You don’t fast when the bridegroom is here and you don’t tell David to lay off the grain.
Sabbath Made for Man
The Sabbath is the bow put on the creation of the everything (Gen. 2:1-3). It’s like a key that unlocks the great mansion of the world. The Sabbath would be a sign to Israel that made the earth in six days and was refreshed on the seventh (Ex. 31:16-17). Rather than keeping and using the gift to exalt the giver and bless others, the Pharisees used it to exalt themselves and control others. The Sabbath is a capstone gift, and like all gifts, it can be received gratefully or ungratefully. God made it for us.
Lord of the Sabbath
Jesus minces no words. The Son of Man has authority to forgive sins and he is lord even of the Sabbath (v28; cf. Dan. 7:13-14). How does the Son of Man keep the sabbath (cf. Ex. 20:8-11)? With the Pharisees hoping for healing and an accusation, Jesus calls the man with the withered hand to come to him so everyone can see him (v3). He asks if it’s lawful to do good or harm, to save or kill on the Sabbath, and then looks around at them in anger, grieved at their hardness of heart (vv3-5). Jesus’ anger resulted in healing and triggers the weird alliance of the Pharisees and Herodians to plot his death (v6; 12:13). The story of Israel is one of failure to Sabbath, and so God himself came in person of Jesus to give us rest, the of salvation pictured and embodied in the Sabbath (Heb. 3:10-11; Heb. 4:7-10).