Human need outweighs seeming need for ritualistic propriety

Lk 6: 1 to 11


We saw previously in Chapter 5 of Luke a pattern developing of the existing religious order of Jesus day constantly finding fault with him and questioning him. After telling the Pharisees and Scribes that it was not possible to combine the new garment of the gospel with the old garment that focused on religious rituals, Jesus reiterates that the new wine of the gospel cannot be poured into old/ used wineskins. If one tried that, it would ruin both the new wine and the old wineskins. New wine continues to ferment and expand, causing expansion and damage to the old wineskins which eventually burst open spilling the wine. The gospel cannot be combined with Pharisaic principles and ritualistic practices; it is new and fresh. However, Jesus recognizes that most people find it difficult to change; as they prefer their old, comfortable ways too much.


In today’s study we will see two more controversies develop, following which the Pharisees and scribes turn against Jesus and start looking for ways to kill the Lord.


In the first (Lk 6:1–5) of the Sabbath controversies, the Pharisees accuse Jesus of doing that which is not lawful “on the Sabbath” (6:2).  The Sabbath denotes Saturday, the seventh day of the week, or, more precisely, the period from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday. The Hebrew word Shabat (or Sabbath) comes from the Hebrew verb shabat, which literally means "to cease", or shev which means "sit". Although the word “sabbath” is almost universally translated as "rest" or a "period of rest", a more literal translation would be "ceasing", with the implication of "ceasing from work". Thus, sabbath is the day of ceasing from work; while resting is implied, it is not a denotation of the word itself. This clarifies the often-asked theological question of why God needed to "rest" on the seventh day of Creation, as related in the Genesis account. When it is understood that God "ceased" from his labor rather than "rested" from his labour, the usage is more consistent with the Biblical view of an omnipotent God who does not need "rest."


All Jews held to the commandment to keep the Sabbath day holy. When reading the 10 commandments in Deut 5, we see that the commandment that is most expansively worded is the commandment on the keeping the Sabbath day holy. The Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking this commandment pertaining to observing the Sabbath but in reality, they were really the ones who missed the point of God’s law by their own extreme interpretation of Sabbath regulations. The law permitted the plucking of grain while walking through a field (Deut. 23:25), but the Jews held that this was not permitted on the Sabbath because rubbing the grain stalks together or walking such long distances was equivalent to work. 


The Jews believed that Messiah would not come until the Sabbath was perfectly upheld in all Israel. This is why the Pharisees were fervent in following all Sabbath regulations to the letter. This was also the big problem - the Pharisees were so well-versed with scripture that they knew the exact no. of letters that constituted the law, and they could tell you the middle letter of the middle word in the long list of laws. However, that is all they knew – the letter of the law, but not the Spirit or application thereof. (2 Cor 3:6 - … for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life)


Jesus responds (6:3) by reminding the Pharisees how David and his young friends ate the shew bread or bread of the Presence which was kept in the Holy Place within the tabernacle (1 Sam. 21:6), even though only priests were permitted to eat it (Lev. 24:5–9). Jesus was trying to show his questioners how David legitimately broke the technical requirements of the law when human need was present. Human need outweighed the need for ritualistic purity in Jesus ministry. 


We see Jesus continuing to perceive the thoughts of the Pharisees who would have in all probability been thinking that Jesus was not like David who was an anointed King over Israel. Accordingly, Jesus argues that he is greater than David, for he is “Lord of the Sabbath.” Jesus thus defends the behaviour of his disciples in this situation and lays to rest the first controversy.


In the second instance (Lk 6:6–11) we see the Pharisees being present in the Synagogue for Jesus teaching on another Sabbath day. However, by this point they were not attending the service to hear or learn from Jesus teaching but to ensnare him in his words/ actions. We can sometimes be like this – we can easily get into scoring the preacher on a 10-point scale while completely failing to hear the message of God to us because we are dismissive of the messenger! 


Jesus on seeing the man with the withered hand, does not hesitate to call him (6:8) to the front of the group meeting in the synagogue that day. Knowing full well the intent of the Pharisees who were there to trap him, Jesus could not help but go about His business – that which his heart yearned for – to bring comfort, healing and deliverance where it was needed most. Jesus called the man forward, asking all those present about the real purpose for the Sabbath. In effect, Jesus was asking the Pharisees, “Who is in violation of the Sabbath?” “Me for healing, or you for plotting to kill Me? Both are work.”  Jesus’s question (6:9) and action of healing (6:10) show that doing good on the Sabbath is a positive duty and far outweighs seeming religious propriety. In other words, the failure to perform good deeds on the Sabbath is evil. 


Mark tells us that the religious leaders respond by plotting to kill Jesus (Mk 3:6), whereas Luke tells us how they were filled with fury and were uncertain on what to do with him (Lk 6:11). In any case, the series of conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees ends with the Pharisees rejecting Jesus and beginning to plot to kill him.


Concluding thoughts:

· We live in a world filled with people with varying needs. It is possible to develop a quasi-religious callousness whereby we fail to see the needs of other around us while continuing in an environment of pseudo-spirituality. We need to watch out for this, as Jesus shows us that we are called to always love and serve others first, beyond any religious need or ritual we uphold.

· If you feel withered, paralyzed, or struggling in any area of your life - know this: When Jesus comes into the meeting, He is always drawn toward the one who is hurting the most. That is so unlike us. We tend to seek out those who are doing the best, the happiest, the seemingly spiritual ones. Not Jesus. He found the one who was suffering with a withered hand that day because He was always drawn to the one with the greatest need. 

- In Acts 20, we see the church meeting not on the Sabbath, but on the first day of the week. Why? Under the Old Covenant, man had to work for six days before he could rest. Under the New Covenant, because of the work Jesus did on Calvary, man rests first. We see God’s original intent concerning the Sabbath day in the fact that man was created on the sixth day, making his first full day one of rest. God is so good – we can start from a position of rest in our race onwards eternity irrespective of where we are today in our walk with the Lord!


We like the Pharisees, can be guilty of reading the Word over and over again, thinking we know what it’s saying, but missing many truths in understanding what God has called us to do. The Lord always wants to show us more in His Word than what we presently know, but it takes an open mind and a tender heart to receive it! May we be a people who respond to the needs around us and love, expecting nothing in return! In Jesus name… Amen!