Commentary on Mark 2:23-28
Today we have a third confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees on the place of the Law in people’s lives. His disciples are accused of violating the sabbath by picking ears of corn as they walked through a cornfield. Stealing was not involved as such “gleaning”, especially by the hungry poor, was tolerated. But the Law forbade reaping on the sabbath. One could hardly call what the disciples were doing as ‘reaping’ but with the casuistic mind of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law the bias was on the side of safety. The perfect observer of the Law would not do anything that could even be regarded in the slightest as a violation.
Jesus solves the issue by appealing to the Hebrew Testament, which, of course, the Pharisees recognised as the word of God. He reminded them how King David and his followers, because they were hungry, went into the house of God and took the loaves of offering, even though only the priests were allowed to eat them. Jesus then enunciates the principle that “the sabbath was made for people and not people for the Sabbath” and secondly that Jesus is master of the sabbath.
The first principle is a very important one, namely, that all laws are for people and not vice versa. They are not ends in themselves and moral perfection is not in their literal observance. The hunger of David and his men transcended a religious regulation(that only the priests could eat the bread of offering). For the Jews of Jesus’ time, virtue was in perfect observance of the Law. For Jesus, observance of the Law was only perfect when it was for the good of others and oneself.
The second principle was that Jesus, as the Son of God, was not bound by human laws, however lofty their motive. We would do well to remember those principles in the living out of our Christian faith. It is possible to lead rule-centred Christian lives rather than love- and people-centred.
There is only one law in our faith: Love one another as I have loved you. Even God will not violate that law because God IS love. Any law which, in a particular situation, does not serve this primary law can be set aside and should be set aside. Positive laws are necessary for smooth functioning in society but they are never absolute.