I grew up in a generally healthy church environment, as you often hear me talk about the positive influence it had upon me from an encouraging, multi-generation church that promoted our growth as children and teens. However, there were also some legalistic elements, such as appropriate clothing for church (suits and ties, etc.) and hair length (don’t begin to look like the hippies!). And I recall bringing some friends from school (who were non-churched) and being criticized by some adults that my friends were too sloppy looking with long hair, etc. … rather than being pleased that they were actually at church and being exposed to the gospel they needed. These folks missed the main point.
And that is what happens in today’s passage. The Pharisees, rather than seeing that the Lord of the Sabbath was with them, chose to criticize what they deemed inappropriate deeds on this day – eating grain, and healing.
The rubbing of grain (allowed by the Law for individuals to do in a neighbor’s field) constituted, in the legalistic thinking of the Pharisees, the work of threshing on the Sabbath. And the man with the withered hand would appear to have been possibly placed in front of Jesus to tempt him to heal on this day. This would give these religious leaders a reason to accuse him.
Jesus sees through all of this, relating himself and his disciples to a story about his ancestor King David and his men – a story in which there was no condemnation. And Jesus teaches that to not do good on the Sabbath when it was able to be done was tantamount to doing evil. He embarrasses them in front of everyone, and for this we see the ratcheting up of intensity to begin to devise some plan to get rid of this Jesus character.
We can’t just do anything we want to do, doing it the name of serving God, even though it is clearly a wrong thing to do. It is never right to do wrong in order to do right. But at the same time, many Christians have missed major ideas by nitpicking about morally indifferent ideas that are merely matters of taste or preference. Over my six decades in churches I have seen preferences about things like music styles, Bible translations, formal or casual clothing, sanctuary or multi-purpose room construction, exegetical or topical sermon series, etc., etc., etc., etc., cause otherwise good people to miss the big idea of the work God was doing. Don’t be like that.
Luke 6:1 – One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
3 Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He 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.” 5 Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. 7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. 8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. 11 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.