Second Sunday after Pentecost
June 3, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
It is nice to know one will be looked after if trouble arises. I recall myself in mid high school, known as a fairly intelligent guy with a bit of a smart mouth. Probably because I was all of 5’6 and 120 lbs letting me have it was not seen as self enhancing by folks I probably irritated. One day while sitting in the library I was approached by Dan Morgiewicz who had a reputation for being an efficient brawler. He told me that if anyone threatened to give me trouble to let him know and he would take care of it. I never utilized his services, and really did not need them, and even if he made the offer erroneously thinking I might provide opportunity for him to engage in a personally enjoyable activity, it felt good to know someone as capable as him would be there for me. That is one of the things the disciples have in Jesus, and then some.
The Gospel lesson begins innocuously. Jesus and his disciples are walking through some grain fields and his disciples begin to pluck heads of the grain. It is not clear if they are snacking hungry or just picking grain like one may pluck a wild flower of pick up a stick on a walk.
This is not another day on the road or outside a village with Jesus. This day is the Sabbath and some Pharisees are watching. Jesus had already healed a demon possessed man in the Capernaum synagogue. There people were amazed rather than put off. That afternoon he healed Peter’s mother-in-law. The villagers did wait until the Sabbath ended at sundown before bringing other ill people to Jesus for healing.
Word spread and some religious leaders were concerned about this healing work, which could be done on any other day was being done on the Sabbath. They wondered about him being a teacher or prophet of God since he associated at meals with tax collectors and other sinners. It is hard to take on someone whom most inhabitants were excited.
They use a time honored approach, still prevalent, by attacking Jesus through his disciple’s behavior. They point out what is going on, “Look why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath.” People were instructed in the Law to gather food the day before.
Initially Jesus shows his protectiveness towards his disciples by what he does not do. Unlike many a person he does not throw them under the bus. “I had no idea they were violating commands about the Sabbath”; or face his companions and shout, “Hey, what you think you guys are doing?” or give his own command, “Drop that grain, this is the Sabbath.”
He moves the focus directly to himself by introducing scripture, rabbi to rabbis. He does this in a way that will make their complaint seem very petty.
He asks them a rhetorical question, by reminding them of a story they should be very familiar. “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?” He summarizes it for them, “He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for anyone but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.”
As related in 1 Samuel David was on the run. The King’s son Jonathan had warned David that his father Saul meant to do David harm. David went to Nob where he was to meet some of his men. Ahimelech, the priest there, meets David in fear. He was trembling. Probably from the high priest Abiathar or common gossip he has some inkling David and the crown were not always on the best of terms. Weaponless and without provision, David tells a lie that he has been sent on a mission by the king and was meeting some men to carry it out. David asks the priest to give him any food on hand so he and his men could eat. Ahimelech responded, “I have no ordinary bread at hand, only holy bread”. He makes a conditional exception – “provided that the young men have kept themselves from women.” David has no way of knowing what they have been doing. Still he declares when on a mission women are always kept from us. He goes further adding they are holy even on a common journey. “So the priest gave him the holy bread; for there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence.”
It is quite a contrast how far David goes when in dire straits and the casual grain picking these Pharisees are comparing to engaging in work, like truly harvesting, on the Sabbath. They look a little silly making a very minor misdemeanor look like a major felony. They are like someone saying to a passing police officer “get that jaywalker” and ignoring the bank robbery in progress across the street.
Jesus goes further. He places himself squarely on the firing line, by telling them they have been misconstruing the spirit and purpose of the law. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
Jesus could have pointed out the lesson in Deuteronomy. The key to Sabbath is a day to the Lord, which is why it is not to be treated as another work day. It calls us to a remembering God while resting from regular labors. Jesus disciples are spending almost all their time with an itinerant preacher and teacher of God’s way who is recognized by us such by many. Even if wrong the disciples are putting more effort into connecting with God than a number of their contemporaries.
Jesus goes all the way saying he is the one whose authority over the law trumps word centered Pharisees, ritual centered Sadducees, and political order divorced from God. He concludes, “so the Son of Man (himself) is lord even of the Sabbath.” The issues are who is Jesus and how do we respond.
Against that disciples and grain picking fade. There is a growing recognition that Jesus challenges the usual ways of operating in life. After another Sabbath healing, two natural opponents, religious Pharisees and Herodians, supporters of a strong local monarchy, minimize their differences and begin conspiring together against Jesus.
Early In his ministry on earth Jesus goes all the way on our behalf. Jesus shifts the focus from our actions in our weakness to an opportunity to encounter all who he is. With Jesus today I understand even more a woman ending a support group meeting, “God, what a guy.” Amen.