Debates about the Sabbath

Gospel Reading: Lk 6:1-5
While Jesus was going through a field of grain on a sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Some Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” Jesus said to them in reply, “Have you not read what David did when he and those who were with him were hungry? How he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.


Jewish tradition specifies what one can and cannot do on the Sabbath. The Mishnah (an ancient Jewish rule book) contains instructions about Sabbath practice. Shabbath 7:2 gives a list of 39 prohibited activities known as the “forty less one.” The Jews are aware of how particular these customs are, since they say that “the rules about the Sabbath… are as mountains hanging by a hair, for Scripture is scanty and the rules are many” (Mishnah, Hagigah 1:8).

According to that list, the disciples have multiple violations: they are guilty of reaping, threshing, winnowing, and preparing food. Jesus defends the actions of his colleagues by citing Scripture. He begins with the challenging remark, “Have you not read…?” Jesus knows the Pharisees have read 1 Sm 21:1-7 and Lv 24:5-9, but he argues they have misunderstood it. Jesus explicitly notes that David and his companions did what was unlawful. They ate “the bread of offering” (“the bread of the Presence,” Ex 25:30) that the law said was only for priests. Since David was not disciplined by the high priest at the time, the Old Testament suggests that what he did was appropriate. Jesus’ reply puts the Pharisees in a dilemma. In effect, if they condemn him on this issue, they criticize David as well.

In Jesus, the old things have passed away and new things have come. He is indeed the Lord of the Sabbath.

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SOURCE: “366 Days with the Lord,” ST PAULS, 7708 St. Paul Rd., SAV, Makati City (Phils.); Tel.: 895-9701; Fax 895-7328; E-mail: [email protected]; Website:

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