Throughout the Gospels, Jesus clashes with the Pharisees and other religious teachers. One big point of contention was that Jesus didn’t follow all the religious rules the Jewish people thought were important. This caused all sorts of problems for the Pharisees and religious teachers.
One of these conflicts occurred at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and it involved the Sabbath. At that time, the Jewish people followed strict guidelines for what could be done on the Sabbath. The idea was that the Sabbath was supposed to be a holy day, set apart for God. So people couldn’t work or do their normal chores on the Sabbath. It was supposed to be a day of rest.
Here is the story: One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Jesus’ disciples were hungry, so they picked some grain to eat as they walked. But technically this was against the rules. The Pharisees caught them red-handed.
He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t respond with a logical argument, but he points to a story. Even David, perhaps the greatest king in Israel’s history, didn’t always follow the rules. The important thing wasn’t the rule, but the heart behind the rule. When there was a need, it was okay to break the rule.
Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-27). Here Jesus points to the heart behind the rule. The people of Israel weren’t given the command to honor the Sabbath just so they could follow a rule. The rule was given for their good, so they could have a day to rest and re-center themselves on what was most important in their lives. This is an important principle. (I’m sure many of us who are living fast-paced social-media addicted lives can agree.) But the point was never the rule itself. The Pharisees focused too much on the rule, and forgot the principle behind the rule, leading them to condemn Jesus’ disciples for breaking off a few heads of grain when they were hungry.
How often do we make this same mistake? Honoring the Sabbath is one example, but consider all the rules you follow in your life. Are you so focused on the rules that you forget the heart behind the rules? This can lead to a tendency to be legalistic and judgmental toward others. Instead, focus on the heart or principle behind the rule, and then you can make wise decisions about whether rules should be followed or set aside.
Discussion: How focused are you on the rules? What is one rule you follow that you have forgotten the heart or principle behind the rule?