Lord of the Sabbath

“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.”

  Paul, Colossians 2:8 

. . . Believing hope [in Christ and our future with Christ] will itself provide the inexhaustible resources for the creative, inventive imagination of love.

 – Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope

The Encounter

1One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” 

 3Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” 5Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” 

Luke 6:1-5

Some Observations

Jesus and his disciples are walking through the grainfields.  A light wind is rustling the stalks, swaying gently as they cut a swath through.  We are there with them.  These guys are always together and Jesus uses every opportunity to impart understanding.

The disciples are hungry and pick grain to eat.  The Pharisees (do you get the sense that these other guys are always following Jesus around trying to catch him doing something wrong?) immediately proclaim that he is breaking the law by “working” on the Sabbath.

Jesus refers to Scripture as the precedent on which he is about to build his argument, again demonstrating his thorough knowledge and instinctual reliance upon it to help work through each situation that arises.  The passage he refers to (I Samuel 21:1-6) has David – in his warrior era – obtaining consecrated (holy) bread from a terrified priest for his hungry men to eat. 

Jesus is doing three things here: First, he is claiming to be Lord of the Sabbath, again proclaiming his deity and, by default, his precedence over any religious optics.  Second, Jesus is showing his purposeful pragmatism, which we will continue to see throughout his life.  In other words, he chooses to knowingly “break” religious law to meet the needs of his men, in this case, to meet their hunger.  Third, Jesus knows that the purpose of the Fourth Commandment to, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8) is to recognize God’s six days of creation and seventh day of rest; this day is set aside for worship, rather than work.  By allowing his disciples to pick and eat grain, Jesus is demonstrating that, while the spirit of the law is to honor God by not making the Sabbath a day of work, meeting basic human needs take precedence over the legalistic interpretation applied by the Pharisees.  When the law becomes a mechanism to judge others and honor ourselves, we can be sure that we are far from the spirit of the law as God intended.

In this encounter, the disciples are on a “holy mission” with Jesus just as David and his men are described in 1 Samuel.  There are deep implications here for how we approach ministry.  The “holy mission” of Jesus should take precedence over our preoccupation with somehow breaking religious ritual or expectation in how this should be conducted.  

This is not an excuse to go around doing things solely to tweak legalists nor a release from our call to seek righteousness.  Rather, it opens up new possibilities, encourages creativity and removes some constraints as to how the mission of Jesus – healing, redemption, restoration, liberation, etc. – is pursued.

This is not to say that conventional approaches to ministry are ineffective; being unconventional for the sake of being unconventional is more often than not about pride rather than mission.  However, there are many – perhaps unlimited – opportunities to apply God’s gift of creativity to the great call of bringing Jesus’ healing and restoration to those around us.

With the Spirit’s leading, we begin each day with a large white canvas before us to express the “creative, inventive imagination of love” in Christ.


“With wisdom are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.  My fruit is better than fine gold; what I yield surpasses choice silver.  I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice, bestowing wealth on those who love me and making their treasuries full.”

  Proverbs 8:18-21

A Prayer

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.  There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.  Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.  In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.  It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is hidden from its heat.”

  Psalm 19:1-6