One of the laws under the Old Covenant was the keeping of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath no person in Israel was permitted to work including the preparation of food. It was meant to be a day of rest and a time for the worship of God. In addition no beast of the field was to be employed in labour of any kind so that they too had rest. Here we see as Jesus’ disciples pluck and rub grain to prepare as food while they walked through some grain fields on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees who were walking with them took the opportunity to condemn the disciples to Jesus. They said, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” (Verse 24)
This is typical of many people today also. Non-Christians will look at Christians and make assumptions and judgements of them based on what they see them doing. In some cases they are quite wrong for they do not understand the basis and truth of Christianity, but only have a vague notion of what a Christian is supposed to be. The general perception of what a Christian is or is not is often based upon fallacy, lies, half-truths and ignorance.
Now when the Pharisees chose to condemn the disciples before Jesus they got a response based upon a truth that they should have known, but failed to recognise. Jesus told them of several cases where people broke the Sabbath but were not condemned. Then he made the statement that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around. God established the Sabbath under the Ten Commandments so that men (and beasts) would have a day of rest each week.
It was not God’s intention that man should work continuously. We know ourselves today that when people overwork they get tired both physically and mentally and become run-down. When this happens their efficiency and effectiveness fall and can lead to poor productivity and lower quality and quantity of outputs. God in his wisdom recognised this fact, after all he created man and knew what his capabilities are, and so he made allowance for man in His law by giving man one day off each week. He also made allowance for man to give him annual leave by establishing the various feasts and special holidays that were encapsulated in the law. All of these things were done not for God’s benefit, but for the benefit of man. The Sabbath day rest was provided so that man could recharge and spend the time in worship and learning the ways of God so that he could improve his life both physically and spiritually.
The Pharisees failed to understand this point. They took a legalistic approach to the Sabbath and the law in general. They became inflexible and failed to understand that the law was given to provide man with insight and wisdom. The law was not meant to be a big stick to hit man over the head with when they did something wrong. They did not recognise the need for compassion, justice, mercy and faith, which are encapsulated in God’s law, but instead chose to use the law as a means of gaining power and control over the people.
For these reasons Jesus condemned the approach of the Pharisees calling them hypocrites in many places. They failed to rightly use the word of God to teach and train the people. When Jesus showed them the errors of their thinking it became quite clear that he was the Lord of the Sabbath.