At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungered…
Six times was our Lord, either directly or through his disciples, charged with sabbath-breaking. In considering the manner in which he met the accusation, we must bear in mind that he was in a different relation to the Jewish sabbath from that which we hold to it. Indeed, we could not, from his observance of the day, argue that a day was to be similarly observed in the Christian Church, because many important observances ceased at his death, and remain to us only in their spiritual substance. But the principles he lays down in defending his conduct carry with them important conclusions regarding the day.
1. The first of these principles underlies all rational religion. It was not a new idea. Our Lord finds adequate expression of it in the Old Testament words, "I will have mercy, and not sacrifice." In other words, God is not pleased by our payment of dues to him, but by our growing in likeness to him and learning to love our brother. The worship that does not feed character is nought.
2. But the second principle has a special reference to the sabbath. It is little more than an inference from the first. "The Sou of man," he says, "is Lord even of the sabbath;" or, as he more plainly puts it in another Gospel, "The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." It is a day given to us by God, who has so arranged things that the world's work can be done completely by giving six-sevenths of our time to it. The tendency of much of our civilization is to make men think that work or business is the whole of life. Such a tendency is checked and rebuked by this day. Every seventh day says to us, "You are not merely a merchant; you are a man. You are not in this world to manufacture material articles and accumulate money; you are here to cultivate friendships, to educate yourself in all that is good, to know God, and become meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." All this was explicitly taught when the sabbath was first promulgated to Israel. The remarkable words were uttered to them, "For that the Lord hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days." This weekly rest was a new sensation to the over-driven slaves; it was a new idea to them to have one day all their own - a day in which they were loosed from all the cares of earth, and taught to know themselves God's children. This fourth commandment, which both our Lord and the Pharisees accepted, was interpreted by them to quite opposite meanings. The Pharisees took the letter of the law, regardless of its spirit and intention. The letter ran, "Thou shalt do no work;" and with the most perfect verbal logic the Pharisee maintained that he kept the law best who did least work. Our Lord, on the other hand, sought to find and satisfy the spirit of the law; and he said, "The day was made to promote men's good; to be a pleasure and a boon, not a vexation and a burden." Whatever best promotes man's good best satisfies the sabbath law. Whatever most effectually sets him free from the grinding toil and feverish cares of this life best satisfies the law. Starting, then, with this idea, that the day is meant to promote the good of man, we see why the one point insisted on in the commandment is that men should cease from their ordinary works. There is not a word about worship, no hint regarding the observance of the day further than this, that it is to be an exceptional day, a day of rest. But, the rest being provided by God, it follows that we must be in cordial and frank fellowship with him in availing ourselves of it. When a father brings his boy home for a holiday, he feels grieved anti disappointed if the boy obviously prefers the company of low and coarse lads to the company he finds in his father's house. And how can a man be directed to the right observance of the seventh day who is at discord with his heavenly Father on the fundamental point of what constitutes true happiness and well-being? Two instances are cited by our Lord to illustrate his meaning.
I. David did not scruple, in an extraordinary emergency, to fall back on the great principle that he himself, God's living servant, was more precious than an ordinance made for his good. From this we derive two hints:
1. We see that the sabbath is not an idol to which man's life or health is to be sacrificed. In all large cities there are thousands who from Monday morning till Saturday night breathe nothing but the most polluted atmosphere, and for such persons to confine themselves to their little room through the whole Sunday as well, seems to lean rather to the Pharisaic observance of the day.
2. But this instance carries with it no sanction of the conduct of any who use it habitually for their mere bodily comfort and worldly gain. David ate the shewbread under pressure. He did it once in his lifetime. And so our Lord admits that resting was the ordinary, normal way to observe the day, and that whosoever dispenses with that must be able to show good cause.
II. The second illustration is equally instructive. The ordinary work of the priests prevents them from keeping the command in the letter. They must care for the public worship. There are circumstances in which you may fairly be expected to give tap your day of rest out of deference to the necessities of society, of your employers, or of one another. Your business is to see that these necessities are real, and not fanciful. But we are no longer under the Jewish Law; do any of the ideas expressed in it directly concern us? No doubt Paul sometimes speaks as if we were done with all distinctions of days, and had no need any longer of the Law, but could live entirely by the direction and impulse of the Spirit. But he sets before us the ideal of the Christian and Christianity; practically the attempt to live without the aids of sabbath observance commonly ends not in elevating all our days to the level of a well-spent sabbath, but in bringing down to a merely worldly level both our sabbaths and our week-days. If, then, we assert for ourselves our Lord's liberty regarding this day, let us be sure we do so from his point of view. Let us not hesitate to prefer the real welfare of men to the claims of the sabbath. But let us be quite sure that we are at one with God in our judgment of what does constitute the welfare of ourselves and others. Seven weeks of leisure out of every year should surely leave behind some very visible traces of our willingness to be helpful in this world, where there is such room for wise and honest helpfulness. To spend such a day in formal attendance at church, in yawning idleness, in gossiping levity, is a scandal to our common humanity; and to spend it even in the pursuit of science, or in reading good secular literature, is to prove we do not yet know what are the capacities and contents of our nature. Make a duty of seriously considering your ways, your habits, your disposition; let your mind rest on the great gospel facts, seek your Lord's presence and address him with the words your thoughts of him suggest, and you will learn how reasonable and fruitful an appointment it is that from all your ordinary works you should rest every seventh day. - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.