Saturday

04 September 2010

"Then [Jesus] said to them, 'The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.'" (v.5)

Background

When he was just a boy, David was anointed king by the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 16:13). King Saul was still in charge of Israel, technically. After famously defeating Goliath (1 Samuel 17:19-58), David grew in stature and gained a band of followers, awaiting a time when Saul's reign would end and his anointing would be confirmed. One day, David and his followers, exhausted and hungry, claimed the right to eat the consecrated bread in God's house, something normally only priests could do (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The Law was put aside as God's anointed demanded that their needs to be fed outweighed any ritual rules.

Move forward several hundred years and we find Jesus with his band of followers walking through the countryside, hungry. Jesus had been anointed by God (that's what 'Messiah' means) and this special status had been announced at his conception, his birth, his blessing in the Temple, his baptism... He was the walking embodiment of God's blessing, but this had not yet been recognised by those 'in charge'. He was king, he just hadn't been crowned.

And so there's a conflict arising with those who fail to see the bigger picture. The observance of the Sabbath law (much of which was merely interpretation of the commandments) was a point of great friction between Jesus and the Jewish teaching authorities.

Even though wayfarers were allowed to help themselves to food to satisfy hunger (Deuteronomy 23:25) Jesus' disciples were seen to fall foul of certain Sabbath prohibitions. By picking and eating grain they were 'technically' reaping, threshing, winnowing and preparing food - all forbidden! You can see how picky his opponents were.

Jesus saw a law of love that overrode anything that would oppress or disable human life. The Law was good, but it was there for human benefit. Human need must come first - not the barren legalism that some seemed to value above life itself.

Jesus summed up his argument by saying that "The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath". And this can mean at least two things. First, Jesus was the Son of Man. This is a term he frequently used to describe himself. It is also a term with deeper significance in the Jewish Scriptures - the Old Testament figure Daniel prophetically saw an apocalyptic Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13). Second, 'son of man' could be also used to describe humanity - a 'son of man' was a person. Perhaps both interpretations are true here. Jesus is indeed Lord of all things, including the Sabbath, but as he said elsewhere, "The sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27).

To Ponder

What was Jesus implying by comparing himself to David? What are the similarities and differences between King David and King Jesus?

When, in our lives, or even in the Church, do we seem to put ritual and rules before basic human life and wellbeing? How would this differ from the gospel life Jesus points to?

Many regret the loss of the Sabbath in British society. As a result many people work longer hours, get stressed and lose time for family, worship or proper relaxation. To what extent have we found out by losing the Sabbath, just what a gift from God it is?

Bible notes author: Revd Andrew Murphy

  • Sign up for e-newslettersKeep in touch with what interests you