Luke 6:1-19 (NKJV)
Now it happened on the second Sabbath after the first that He went through the grainfields. And His disciples plucked the heads of grain and ate them, rubbing them in their hands. 2 And some of the Pharisees said to them, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” 3 But Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read this, what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he went into the house of God, took and ate the showbread, and also gave some to those with him, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat?” 5 And He said to them, “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
6 Now it happened on another Sabbath, also, that He entered the synagogue and taught. And a man was there whose right hand was withered. 7 So the scribes and Pharisees watched Him closely, whether He would heal on the Sabbath, that they might find an accusation against Him. 8 But He knew their thoughts, and said to the man who had the withered hand, “Arise and stand here.” And he arose and stood. 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one thing: Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy?” 10 And when He had looked around at them all, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored as whole as the other. 11 But they were filled with rage, and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.
12 Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles: 14 Simon, whom He also named Peter, and Andrew his brother; James and John; Philip and Bartholomew; 15 Matthew and Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon called the Zealot; 16 Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot who also became a traitor. 17 And He came down with them and stood on a level place with a crowd of His disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem, and from the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear Him and be healed of their diseases, 18 as well as those who were tormented with unclean spirits. And they were healed. 19 And the whole multitude sought to touch Him, for power went out from Him and healed them all.
There was a prevailing blindness in Israel with regard to the Sabbath law, and all God’s laws, at the time of Jesus. Most of the Jewish leaders thought that their religion was about doing things for God, obeying His commandments in order to earn His favor. They viewed the Sabbath law as Israel’s special obligation to “work” by not working.
Jesus exposes their blindness in today’s reading. The disciples were not breaking God’s Sabbath law by having a bite to eat on the Sabbath, and Jesus was not breaking God’s Sabbath law by healing on the Sabbath. The ceremonial aspect of the Sabbath law—the part about not doing any work on the Sabbath—was not an absolute commandment that was to be obeyed to the detriment of one’s own body or the body of one’s neighbor. On the contrary, the Sabbath law was God’s merciful gift to Israel. It was given for man’s benefit, as a way to ensure some rest in the midst of this world’s toil, and as an opportunity to help one’s neighbor in need. But the people’s focus on themselves and their works made them unable to see or to reflect God’s mercy.
The same blindness prevails in today’s world, too. Those who think they have a chance to earn their way into heaven despise the free favor and mercy of God in Christ, just as those who love their sin despise God’s condemnation of it and His insistence that all must come to repentance. In either case, they are unable to see how hopeless their situation is and that the only thing that can save them is resting in God’s mercy and in Christ’s work on our behalf.
May our eyes be open, both to our sin and to God’s mercy toward sinners. Then, having received mercy from God, we will finally be able to see how to be merciful toward those around us, just as the Lord Christ always was.
Let us pray: Merciful Lord God, turn our eyes toward the needs of our neighbor and warm our hearts by Your mercy to show mercy to those around us. Amen.