The Lectionary did us no favors by jumping into Luke at chapter 7, skipping what I think are the two most important chapters in the whole gospel in 5 and 6. Smack in between the calling of disciples and the Sermon on the Plain is one of my favorite moments of Jesus’s. It is striking and captivating. And it paints everything that comes after it.
At the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus and his new rag-tag bunch of followers have started out on their mission. They are healing the sick and proclaiming a new era. They go through this wheat field and the followers pick the wheat on the way through and eat it. Not a big deal. Except that it happened to be Saturday: the Sabbath. Now they’re in trouble.
The Pharisees get on Jesus for this. They ask how he can allow the disciples to break the law. This is Jesus’s response:
“Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?”
The text then says:
Then he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
There’s something telling, however about Jesus’s reference to David beyond the easy connections we make about Jesus. I’m compelled less by that follow-up message about being “lord of the sabbath” as I am in the tale of David and his companions breaking the Law to share in the presence. For to make this about Divinity and power of Jesus is to miss the pure humanity of David, and his much greater transgression than Jesus’s. Jesus allowed a couple of dudes to break Sabbath—David himself and his buddies entered the holiest of holies.
This comparison is important because it sets the stage for what it means to do the ministry of GOD. As much as the Sermon on the Plain (6:17-49) explains a ministry of listening and service, Jesus demonstrates also a ministry of rebellion. Or perhaps more accurately, one of reconciliation. This is, in fact, what happens in the raising of the Widow’s Son at Nain, which we explored yesterday, and demonstrated in Jesus’s healing of the man with the withered hand.
These things are important because when confronted by the authorities for breaking the rules, Jesus doesn’t say
I’m bigger than the rules.
He is saying
We break the rules to follow the rules.
Perhaps more specifically, we break the rules we made to support GOD’s rules when those human rules aren’t actually supportive.
Which brings me to what is most striking about the David story: Jesus defends his followers with a story that we would read scandalously if we were paying it any attention. Imagine if people broke into our churches and ate the consecrated elements—how scandalized we would be.
How scandalized we are when we talk about communion without baptism.
How scandalized we are when the wrong people are doing things.
This is the story Jesus picked to defend his followers.
And it is a story so easy to connect with our own practices, our own laws, our own traditions and canons that we are left sitting with an uncomfortable question about our own behavior and our own practices. It is so tailor-made for conversation about Eucharist and access to it, Jesus seems to be arguing against us.
All of this is wrapped in the context of this sequence of events:
- Finding his followers
- Doing ministry with them
- Breaking Sabbath Law
- Naming the 12 apostles
- Preaching the Sermon on the Plain
- Heading out to do the ministry together
This must not be seen as a single scandalous event, but embedded in the essential character of our ministry.
Question: Does your ministry contain this element of scandal?