“Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” Beginning a little bit with yesterday’s passage, but certainly with today’s, we get a slight shift in Luke. The first five chapters of Luke have basically established Jesus’ mission, authority, and his team, but there’s been very little focused action. Here in chapter six, we will begin to focus in on some action, but more so some teaching. And that teaching can in many ways be summed up in the Pharisees’ question here of “why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” The law was everything in those days. The instructions in the Torah were the basis for all law and order for the Jewish people, and adherence to it meant being right with God and not adhering to it meant you weren’t (a gross generalization, of course). This kind of thinking may begin pure, but as humanity is fallen, it is destined to fall into fatal flaws. And the fatal flaw that has hit Israel is exclusion. Because of the strict moral code that was enforced, masses of people were being excluded from the very presence and activity of God as they saw it. That did not mean that the law was bad. It meant that the manifestation of the law had lost its way. Luke’s Jesus (among other things) has come to usher in all people. But doing that means rethinking the law and how it’s manifested.
So here Jesus’ disciples essentially start doing work on the Sabbath. You’re not supposed to do that. It’s against the law. So the Pharisees, the keepers of the law, who are also threatened by the steam of Jesus’ young ministry, challenge him on this. And then Jesus retorts with citing a time when David, King David, did the same. And I love how this ends: With Jesus just sort of throwing in this not-so-subtle claim: “The Son of Man is the lord of the sabbath.”Here he is also almost claiming that “there’s a new sheriff in town”, so look out- there’s more of this coming.
The overarching issue is this: The law, any law, should exist to serve the people. But all too often, when we lose the spirit of the law in our adherence to the letter of it, the people end up serving the law. That’s what’s going on here. Jesus does not want to destroy the law. As Matthew’s Jesus points out, he wants to fulfill it. He wants to get back to that for which it was intended. It’s meant to serve the people. God’s law is not some regimen of a maniacal, angry and controlling being with no rationale and purpose. God’s law is designed to help us live the best lives we can live in relationship with God and each other. When it ceases to do that, it has either outlived its usefulness or is being misused. And this is especially true when it comes to sabbath. Sabbath is meant to be a renewal of the soul not a burden to it. This is what Jesus is calling out here, and will continue to do so in other areas as well.
Before we get to haughty, we need to examine our faith in this as well. Christianity through time and space ha had its fair share of using a strict moral code to at best exclude and at worst kill and destroy. When we look at Jesus, we must remember that he is always challenging whatever is that we think we have figured out. Phrases like, “I don’t know how you can call yourself a Christian and…” are really no different than the Pharisees’ question here.
Jesus didn’t come to destroy the law. He came to fulfill it. He loved the law. He loved what it was intended do, which is help us love God, self and neighbor. But that’s for later. This is just the beginning.