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Wednesday, February 6th 2013


Lord of the Sabbath

  • STATE OF EXISTENCE: Playing tag with headaches
  • IN THE BACKDROP: Castle Rerun followed by CSI

No critique here, not even a puzzle really, just a little befuddlement.

Cash for GoldSometime last week I was driving home from Anderson, IN, going past the series of strip malls on SR 9. The thermometer in my truck cab reported that it was 11° F outside; that comes to roughly -12° C. It was breezy, so the wind chill factor undoubtedly was hovering around 0° F (-18° C). There, at the entrance of one of the little collections of stores was a gentleman waving his big board announcing that someone was all set to part with cash for gold. I could not figure out which establishment he represented. Now, let's be clear on this: I'm glad that this person has a source of income, and he seemed to be pretty well bundled up against the cold. Nevertheless, there is something about the underlying theory of the sign waving school of advertising that I just don't get. The external temperature only underscored for me the bizarre nature of the situation. Whenever I see these folks with their "Cash for Gold" signs, I keep wondering: Who drives around with a hoard of gold in their car, sees the man with a sign and, on the spur of the moment, decides to pull in and sell some of that gold? -- I know, it doesn't have to be "on the spur of the moment." But if it isn't, what useful purpose is being served by the man at the curb waving his sign? -- Well, if he receives an adequate remuneration, there's that at least, and I'm happy for him and hope that he will move up the ladder of his profession.

Luke Bible Study      

Bible Reading: Luke 6:1-11

v. 5: Then he told them, "The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

The following illustration is fictional. We are all familiar with the phenomenon. Gertrude has received her "rock" from Sam. (For my readers not at home in U.S. culture, it is customary here that, when a couple gets engaged, the prospective groom presents his bride with a diamond ring, which will then reside on the ring finger of her left hand. During the wedding, the groom adds a simple ring above it, and she slips a more-or-less matching one on his left hand as well.) Our hypothetical Gertrude will typically demonstrate her justifiable pride and excitement by positioning her hand so that the little sparkler will be as visible as possible, whether it's how she is taking notes in her classes or eating in the cafeteria. All of her friends are happy for her; Sam was quite the catch.

But along comes Jeff. He tells his friends that he is the one who gave the diamond to Gertrude. When Gertrude flashes her little piece of compressed carbon, he points to it and says, "See what I gave to her!"

Needless to say, Gertrude is seriously annoyed and confronts Jeff about his ridiculous story. "That ring came from Sam as a special sign from him how much he loves me. What gives you the right to claim that you gave it to me?"

Jeff has an answer ready. "I certainly wouldn't--unless I, Jeff, were actually the same person as your Sam."

Gertrude is outraged.


I don't know who said it first, but presumably someone did, and it's apt: The Jews have considered the Sabbath as a sign of betrothal from Yahweh. The Lord clarified to them that they were his special people by presenting them with the Sabbath as his special gift. Another popular saying goes, "It's not so much that the Jews have preserved the Sabbath, as that the Sabbath has preserved the Jews." What if someone other than Yahweh came along and claimed the Sabbath as his?

The confrontation in our passage occurred one Sabbath day as Jesus and his disciples were taking a stroll. Although there were restrictions on how far one could walk on a Sabbath, there were (and still are) ingenious ways of extending them, for example by artificially expanding the boundaries of a town. So, the group was actually out walking next to grain fields. Apparently the disciples were genuinely hungry as they were availing themselves of the principle that if one is starving, one may eat from a neighbor's field--though only as much as is necessary to satisfy one's hunger. Deuteronomy 23:25 reads,

      When you enter your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck heads of grain with your hand, but you must not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain. (HCSB)

So, we must understand from the beginning that the ensuing argument was not about any supposed theft of grain committed by the disciples. What they were doing was not intrinsically wrong. The debate focused entirely on the fact that their actions took place on the Sabbath. The Pharisees who were picking the fight with Jesus were probably rabbis from Beth Shammai, the House of Shammai, the conservative group.

"Can't you see that your disciples are breaking the Sabbath?"

Oh, the casuistic discussions that could be evoked at this point! What is or is not permissible to do on the Sabbath? Do those restrictions apply to the Christian observance of Sunday? If so, what is or is not permissible to do on Sunday? Is it appropriate to rest on a Sunday, or must we exhaust ourselves with church activities? But all of these matters are beside the point, if not in general, then certainly in relationship to this event.

Jesus was not intimidated. Luke left out a part of what Jesus was saying, which might have softened what came a little bit later. In Mark 2:27 we read that he said, "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath." I have looked for a statement along this line in the collection of rabbinical sayings, but have not found it directly. Nevertheless, it is definitely in the spirit of Beth Hillel, the more liberal group of Pharisees. Luke did not mention it and thereby made what Jesus says even more abrupt.

First, Jesus pointed to the events tied to 1 Samuel 1:1-6 when David, fleeing from King Saul, entered the Tabernacle and, being hungry, helped himself to the show bread, which only priests were allowed to eat. He even shared it with his companions. We don't learn about the Parisees' response, so we may picture them standing with their mouths agape in horrified amazement at Jesus declaring himself to be equal with David and implying that he had the right to override the Law. But what came next would make this assertion pale in comparison.

"The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Let me just say this much about the term "Son of Man." It is not a way of Jesus referring to his humanity, but it is a messianic title based on Daniel 7:13. As I have promised once before, I will expand on this matter at the appropriate time. For now, let us just leave it with the fact that by using that title Jesus clearly indicated that he saw himself as the Messiah of God.

The bombshell was that Jesus claimed to be "Lord of the Sabbath." The Lord of the Sabbath could only be the one who gave it to Israel, namely Yahweh himself. Thus, Jesus made himself equal to God. Luke still did not record the reaction by the Pharisees, but, following the other synoptics, moved on to the next event, when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath.

The individual who became the subject of the controversy was someone whose hand was paralyzed. On a subsequent Sabbath he was sitting in the synagogue listening to Jesus teaching. Sharing the room with him, once again, were Pharisees attempting to build a case against Jesus. According to their strict interpretation (which probably had little warrant), they had decided that if Jesus healed anyone on the Sabbath, he was desecrating the day and, thereby committing blasphemy. The rest of the story is straightforward. Jesus read their minds and raised the rhetorical question of whether it was appropriate to do good on the Sabbath. Then, making sure that no one missed what he was doing, he called the man forward and healed him.

The Pharisees were livid. In Luke's words, "They, however, were filled with rage and started discussing with one another what they might do to Jesus." Mark left no room for speculation. He clearly stated that they started to plot how to destroy him.

Killing a man for violating the Sabbath? Isn't that a little strong? Even if what he was doing was bordering on blasphemy, the reaction by the Pharisees seems a little overblown, doesn't it? We are looking here at events that will lead to the trials before the Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate, culminating in the crucifixion. That'll certainly teach him not to let his disciples pick grain on the Sabbath or heal a man on the Sabbath!

The mind set of the Pharisees starts to make sense once we remind ourselves of what we said in connection with the healing of the paralytic descending through the roof in a recent entry. As I said then, Deuteronomy 13:1-5 warns that there may come a false prophet who would attempt to lead God's people astray. This demonic person would actually be able to corroborate his claims with true signs and wonders. In that case, the people should recognize that their loyalty to God and his Law are being tested, and they should show God that they were not departing from him by executing this false prophet. It is under this umbrella that we can understand why the Pharisees were so upset. According to their understanding, Jesus was leading people away from God and his Law, which is bad enough, but he also deceived the people into following him with supernatural actions, which could only be attributed to Satan. I know that I am drawing an inference, but I have no doubt that it is correct. Their reaction was to a large extent motivated by this idea based on Deut. 13.

Son of God or Son of Satan? As C. S. Lewis said, one has to make a choice one way or the other (unless, of course, one ignores the evidence). But how do we decide? The answer is not all that hard, but it requires some work. We must pursue the same data as Jesus, the apostles, and the early church did; namely, we must know the Law and the Prophets, known to us as the Old Testament. Did Jesus fulfill the prophecies of the evil prophet of Deut. 13, viz. lead the people into apostasy on the basis of sorcery, or did he fulfill the prophecies of the Messiah? Clearly, I'm favoring the second option without hesitation. But we should do the Pharisees justice and understand that they were not just blind or biased. They were wrong, but, if we're interested in showing why, we need to be able to do so on the basis of the Scriptures. In short: Study the Old Testament!

I might add that, given the right commentary or Study Bible at one's side, 1 & 2 Chronicles are a good place to start.

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