Going Against the Grain – February 12, 2012
Psalm 84, Luke 6:1-11
February 12, 2012
I had a little bit of fun with this sermon title! Because, in this story, the disciples were “going against the grain.” That means they were “defying the norm.” And they were doing so by picking the grain!! You get it? “Going against the grain?” That was a fun little play on words for me! But I hope you’ll see what this all meant.
So far this year, we’ve been making our way through the life and ministry of Jesus. And last week, I asked you to see how Jesus was “Raising the Bar.” He was not just a curiosity any more. He wasn’t just a celebrity. He was asking the people to go to a higher level of belief. He began talking about “forgiving sins.” He called himself the “Son of Man.” And for the first time, the religious leaders were starting to use the “B” word. They cried “Blasphemy!” Actually, they probably just said it at first. They probably used a concerned, maybe even fearful, tone of voice. “Don’t you realize what you’re saying, Jesus?”
Well, now the bar is being raised even higher. Now, in Luke’s account, Jesus starts to have some direct conflicts with, the religious leadership – particularly the Pharisees. Now he really starts “going against the grain.” And the first thing I want you to see about this story – actually, these two stories – is that they’re told together by three of the four Gospel writers. That alone makes them important. Matthew, Mark, and Luke want us to see how this conflict with the Pharisees developed. And here’s how it happened.
As we start chapter six, it’s the Sabbath day, and Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field. And remember, I’m asking us to “tweak” our mental images. So, I want you to think about who is in this picture. Who was there with Jesus? The Pharisees were there, of course. They were watching him. And of course, Luke tells us how they challenged him. Also, the disciples, were there. They ate the grain. But how many disciples were there? Notice, Jesus doesn’t choose twelve until later in this chapter. There were many disciples – or at least many “would-be disciples” – that followed him around! And what about the crowds? Were they still in the picture? Remember, Jesus could hardly get away from them! So, has your picture changed at all?
Well, as Jesus was walking through the fields with his disciples – and whoever else you see in your mind – his “disciples” began picking the heads of the grain and eating them. And Luke is careful to tell us that they do so by rubbing them in their hands. That’s important, because the Pharisees saw both of those actions as violations of the Sabbath law. The disciples were “harvesting” the grain by picking it, and they were “threshing” the grain by rubbing off the chaff in their hands. And I know this sounds ridiculous to us! But the Pharisees didn’t think so. They had very specific laws about those sorts of things.
So, they accuse the disciples of violating the Sabbath. And Jesus comes to their defense. He gives examples of earlier times when other people “violated” holy things. He tells them about the time David himself ate the bread of the presence in the temple. That doesn’t mean much to us, but it was huge to them! And I want you to see here, that Jesus was actually arguing a pretty good case – literally. Remember that these religious leaders were keepers of the law. And that meant the civil law, as well. So Jesus was making a defense here, like a lawyer would. He was citing “legal precedent.” And the Pharisees didn’t seem to have any answer. (In fact, they were probably just getting mad!)
Then, at the end, Jesus says this famous line. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” And what he meant by that was that all of their “religious regulations” were originally created to benefit the people. They were intended to help the people in their faith and devotion, not to restrict and control them, and certainly not to distract them from, or to interfere with, their relationship with God. But that’s what it had gotten to!
And I think we have to ask ourselves about our own religious practices. Do we ever worship those practices themselves, forgetting what they were really for? If you think about it, everything we do in our life of faith should point us to, and lead us to, God. That’s the whole idea behind religion! Unfortunately, religious people have a tendency to forget that. And when they argue faith and practice, they lose sight of that, like these Pharisees did.
Actually, that line the “Sabbath was made for man…” doesn’t appear in Luke’s account. But it’s associated with this story and we know it so well, that I wanted to mention it. Also, it fits with the case Jesus was arguing! That line only appears in Mark’s account. That doesn’t mean Luke didn’t think Jesus said it. Remember, we’re only reading parts of Jesus’ speeches. The Gospel writers used the words and stories that focused in on what they were trying to say about him.
So both Matthew and Luke actually get right to the part of this story where Jesus really “goes against the grain.” They get right to the part where he really rankles the Pharisees. And all three accounts contain this next line, where Jesus says, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
Here again, Jesus is using this term “Son of Man.” And if you remember last week, I said how that was an Old Testament term that was a bit ambiguous. For most of the Old Testament, it was used in a way that it meant “all of humanity.” I quoted Psalm 8. “…What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou doest care for him?” Later in Daniel 7, it became a Messianic term. “To the Son of Man… was given dominion and glory and kingdom…”
So Jesus was using this term for himself, saying that he was somebody important, without actually coming out and saying he was the Messiah. And now he has gone from the point of saying, “the Son of Man had the authority on earth to forgive sins,” to where he is now saying “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” I’m thinking that was even worse for the Pharisees to hear. (Remember, the Sabbath Law was one of the most important things in life for them!)
Well, if that weren’t enough, Luke then follows up with this second story. And again, so do Matthew and Mark. And this is the story of another Sabbath day, and another clash over the Sabbath law! It’s almost as though Luke was trying to explain to his readers why there was such animosity between these guys and Jesus. Think about it. People in the first century many not have understood why Jesus would have been put to death by the religious leaders. They didn’t have all the information we have. They didn’t have the Gospels. They didn’t have the news coverage, like we’re used to, where every story, every incident, and every nuance of anything is always reported. People in the first century may not have understood why the one who was believed to be the Messiah was betrayed by the religious leaders of the day.
So this next encounter has to do with Jesus healing on the Sabbath. And again, notice what was happening. Jesus first entered the synagogue and taught. And of course the Pharisees were there. (They were always there!) And he knew that they were always vigilant about the Sabbath law, and that they were watching him specifically to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. So he challenged them. This time there was no debate. He gave no examples or precedence! He simply asked, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”
That was a good question. But I don’t think it was a question intended to “win them over.” Jesus was not attempting to teach them anything. This was a direct challenge. And he was challenging them on their whole concept of the Sabbath Law. They had made keeping the Sabbath, as well as all the other Commandments, the whole aim of their lives. And they were proud of that! Overly proud! And they held the people to a very high standard. But the problem was, they had gotten the whole thing all turned around from what it was supposed to be.
Jesus was challenging them on that. The Sabbath was made for the benefit of mankind! It was all about the need for rest and rejuvenation. And that alone would be a good lesson for our world to hear today. We live in a world which is filled with great tension and stress – a world where the three most used medications are antidepressants, stomach acid reducers, and sleep aids!
As we look at this story, one thing I think we need to keep in mind is that Jesus cared about the people! He wanted them to understand the importance of true Sabbath. But that was hard to do, because it had been turned by these leaders from being a benefit, to being a burden. In fact, under their leadership too many things had become a burden. That’s where Jesus always challenged them the most!
I think we always need to look at what we do from Jesus’ eyes. Are there ever any parts of our faith that are made for our benefit, which we have turned into a burden? Are there ever parts of our faith that impair, rather than helping, our relationship with God? Are we ever so comfortable and set in our ways, that we are not all that concerned about God’s ways? Are we ever so concerned with orthodoxy that we forget about spirituality? In other words, are we ever so set on “correctness” about God, that we forget the importance of intimacy with God?
I think those are the questions of our age. And those are the things Jesus was always concerned about. So, as we get closer to the time of Lent, let us not only tweak our mental images of Jesus, but let us also think about what we do and why we do it. All things in our faith should point us to, and move us closer to, God! Is that why we do what we do?
Eternal God, help us to seek first your presence in our lives. Help us to look beyond those things that might get in our way, and to seek to know you more. Help us to see ourselves as you see us, and to follow more closely our Savior, in whose name we pray, Amen.