And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (mark 2:23–28; emphasis added)
What do we mean when we say we are “baiting” someone? It means that we are intentionally trying to draw them into a bit of tension, perhaps even conflict. We see “baiting” in sporting events when an athlete tries to goad an opponent into taking a swing at them. We see it in politics when one side of the aisle intentionally tries to draw the other side out, and uncover a view or opinion that will not play well in the media or with the public.
When we see someone baiting another person, it can seem shrewd to us. Yet, what if Jesus was baiting someone? How would we view that? I suggest that it is just such a situation that brings us the final of the four “why” questions of Mark 2.
So many of the controversial things Jesus did took place on the Sabbath. It’s difficult to see that pattern as anything less than strategic. Here, Jesus and His followers are going through the fields and picking grain, which qualified as “work” as the Pharisees defined it. The disciples were grinding it in their hands (more work), and eating it. Harvesting enough grain to eat from someone else’s field was permissible under the law, but all of this was taking place on the Sabbath. Strict Mosaic law governed what could and, mostly could not, be done on that day set aside for rest.
The seemingly everpresent Pharisees are watching this take place. Perhaps Jesus does it exactly this way to set up a point of tension with them. In other words, He is baiting them. The Pharisees felt that their number-one mission was to defend the law of Moses and challenge anything that threatened obedience to that law. They believed they had to respond.
The Sabbath guidelines were just one small part of the regulations and rules that had come to dominate their thinking about Torah and its instructions. These Pharisees would have felt absolutely justified in attacking such a blatant violation of Sabbath law. So for the third time in this chapter, representatives of the religious community ask the why question: “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (v. 24).
How can Jesus think He can supersede the law of Moses? This echoes the first question, “Who does He think He is?” Moses’s law was the binding contract between God and Israel. If Jesus is to be a teacher/rabbi for the Jewish people, how can He ignore something so fundamental to who the Jewish people are? They are God’s chosen people and must live according to His law.
Jesus responds with a story straight out of the Scriptures. He recalls how David and his men, when they were being pursued by Saul, took the bread of Presence from the tabernacle. This bread was to be a holy offering to the Lord, and only the priests could eat it. David and his men were famished from fleeing, and they ate it anyway. Jesus says that they did so without dishonoring God.
This opens the door for the declaration that Jesus and His men are able to do something similar. The Sabbath was intended for the benefit, not the harm, of people. It was meant to help and strengthen, not to dominate or control. It was meant to free, not to enslave. So Jesus faces the accusation of the Pharisees head-on: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (vv. 27–28).
The Bible Knowledge Commentary says, “Jesus used this action which God did not condemn, to show that the Pharisees’ narrow interpretation of the Law blurred God’s intention. The spirit of the Law in respect to human need took priority over its ceremonial regulations.”
The point is that God’s heart is for people and their wholeness, not for ritual. As David said in his great song of repentance:
For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (psalm 51:16–17)
Jesus affirms that the Father’s priority is not on the ceremonial; His heart is for the hurting and their needs. And, once again, we find a new trajectory that takes us away from the liturgical and legalistic trappings of religion. Jesus draws us out of the system of dos and don’ts and instead allows us to see where our heavenly Father is focused: His generous and loving heart is on people.
Why Is He Breaking the Sabbath?
And the Question Is …
What was Jesus up to when He walked this planet? On one level, these four “why” questions that took place so early in this gospel record lay the foundation for the rest of Mark’s account of Jesus’s life. Mark, believed by scholars to have been the recorder of Simon Peter’s memoirs of his days with the Christ, presents the thesis that Jesus is the Messiah. He has come to rescue all of us, because God values people over ritual, and He is doing a new thing through Jesus. The remainder of Mark’s gospel becomes an exposition of these crucial concepts.
But that isn’t all. Jesus was intentionally rattling the cages of His generation and destroying their presuppositions in order to paint an accurate portrait of God.
By linking these stories together, we see the heart of our Father God who sent His Son to forgive sins, welcome the outcast, celebrate new life, and point beyond religion. We see the heart of the God who so loved the world that He gave His Son to us.
In these four stories we learn four important things about the Father:
Jesus came to bear the full force of the consequences of our rebellion against God. He showed us the Father’s heart to a depth that had never been shown before—in overcoming, forgiving, and making us and all things new.
Your earthly father may have been wonderful. Or perhaps he fell far short of your hopes and expectations. Maybe you never even knew your father. Regardless of your situation, Jesus points us to a greater and better Father—His own Father. Jesus came to make a place for us in His Father’s house. He shows us the Father, and helps us to understand Him more fully. From Jesus, we learn that our Father’s heart for us is more than we could have ever imagined.