Jesus and the Sabbath (Lk 6:1-5)
Since the question of Jesus and the Sabbath came up recently over on SLD, I thought I'd post an old paper that I wrote on Luke 6:1-5. Here's a somewhat provocative snippet:
In a nutshell, most Christians assume that both David and Jesus cannot actually be breaking the law; there must be some mitigating circumstance, which is then located in “human need” (the definition of which happens to be conveniently vague). Unfortunately, such an interpretation fails to do justice to God’s word on at least two essential counts.Of course, if you want to see where I go from here, you're going to have to go read the whole thing.
First, it fails to take the OT commandments seriously enough. God explicitly stated that the bread of Presence was only for the priests, and He as Lawgiver provided no exception clauses. David really was breaking God’s direct commandment (and I would argue this is precisely Jesus’ point). God is equally concerned about Sabbath observance: it is not even permissible to build a fire on the Sabbath (Ex 35:2). We would do well to remember the events of Num 15:32-41, where a man caught gathering sticks on a Sabbath is stoned to death. He certainly seems to have as much of a claim to “human need” as David did – why then did God order his execution?
Second, this interpretation also fails to take Luke’s account seriously enough. Jesus and his disciples may have been hungry, but certainly mere hunger does not constitute ‘necessity for physical well being.’ Is it really possible they could not deny themselves for a mere 8-10 hours for the sake of honoring God’s law?1 Likewise, how do we explain the pericope that follows in 6:6-11? The Pharisees seem to have a point – the man with a withered hand (6:6) is in no impending danger; neither is the woman who has had a disabling spirit for eighteen years (13:10-17). Neither situation seems correlative with the ox fallen into the well (14:5).