Luke 6:1-11 “Lawfully”
I recall the first time that I was shown how to eat wheat from the field. This was in Eastern Washington State. Our very good friends, the Kesters, were dry-land wheat farmers. One day, David Kester took me out to the side of the road in front of his house in the middle of the wheat fields to show me how to check to see if the wheat was ready for harvest.
He reached out to a stalk of wheat and pulled upwards. The head came off in his hand. He then rubbed his two hands together with the wheat inside. The chaff loosened from the seed in the boot. He blew away the chaff with a big breath then popped the wheat seed in his mouth. I tried it myself. He warned me: “Whatever you do, do not try to chew the wheat because you will most likely break your teeth.”
It was on that day that I realized a strange biblical truth about the passage we read today. Wheat off the stalk is inedible! It has to be soaked into a mush, as the Egyptians did—and eventually stumbled across the production method for beer—or it can be ground into a flour and made into bread.
My point is this: Surely the disciples were not taking the wheat in hand because they were starving. (Note: another gospel does say that they were hungry). They would never get enough to make the equivalency of a piece of bread. The reason one takes the wheat seed into the mouth is to determine if it is ready for harvest. Jesus and his disciples are checking the harvest. It is great metaphor!
As an aside, another metaphor that we see here is the idea of the chaff. Remember Psalm 1? Evil is the chaff that is separated from the grain! I wonder if Jesus means to infer that the Pharisees should be blown away? Every reference in the Bible to chaff is about getting rid of that which is not pertinent or needed.
Anyway, why would they be checking the wheat harvest? They were not wheat farmers. Mostly they were fisherman. However, in those days, when it was time to harvest, every able hand was brought to the task. It made no difference what your regular work was, when it was time to collect the wheat harvest, everyone participated. I think the disciples were checking to see if there were still time before the harvest. This is of course another great metaphor to say that the harvest time is close at hand for all.
For some reason, the disciples and Jesus are still in the company of the Pharisees. Last we heard, the Pharisees had come to Matthew’s house, were upset with Jesus there because the disciples were not fasting but rather eating with tax collectors. Despite the fact that they were not happy with Jesus, they are following him now. Why? As we heard from the scripture this morning, they are trying to trap him—to find reason to do away with him.
When the disciples take the wheat into their hands, the Pharisees claim that they are breaking the 4th Commandment of God (Exodus 20:8-11) in regards to keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath rules state that one is not to prepare food on the Sabbath. Yet, the disciples seem to be preparing wheat for consumption. To be sure, nowhere in the Bible can we read that it is prohibited to check the harvest. It is not considered food preparation to do so. It is not even considered stealing if the wheat is not yours since all are involved in the harvest.
It is interesting that the Pharisees do not seem to know that it IS okay to sample wheat for the harvest on the Sabbath. After all, the Pharisees considered themselves to be the “lords of the Sabbath.” They were the watchers who assumed authority over the ancient practices related to the Jewish Sabbath. There are over 350 instances in the Bible of laws relating to keeping the Sabbath. One just about had to be an expert religious attorney to keep all of this straight and to make it applicable over people’s lives.
Having said this, if the Pharisees believe that Jesus is breaking the Sabbath and is unclean ritualistically for having eaten with sinners, then their response should have been to separate themselves from Jesus to keep themselves clean according to the law. They should in no way be following Jesus. Nor should they be spying on or stalking Jesus, for this is working on the Sabbath, too. Ah, the hypocrisy of it all!
Jesus does a little test of their knowledge of Torah here. Jesus quotes 1 Samuel 21, the story of David taking the bread from the Temple for his men. Hmmmm, the story is that David was on the run from Saul and was quite alone at the time. When Jesus asks, “Don’t you know the story of David taking the Holy bread?” we should note to ourselves that the Pharisees never answer. In other words, they do not know it. Shame on them! How can they be “lords of the Sabbath,” as they would proclaim, if they do not even know this story about King David? Perhaps they do know the story of David, but really we are left guessing as they never answer Jesus at all.
Jesus proclaims to us that “He (Jesus) is the Lord of the Sabbath.” This is really another way to say that He is God. God instituted the Sabbath through Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is the fourth of the Ten Commandments. It is of God. It is what God did on the seventh day of Creation. That is the model for what God intended with the Sabbath Day.
God created everything in six days. God looks back at it, including us, and says “Very Good.” In Genesis 2 we see that it says that God “finished.” God always finishes what God starts. Even Jesus on the Cross says; “It is finished.” (John 19:30) I was thinking that this is so important. WE go from week to week sometimes never having that sense that anything is ever finished. The Sabbath is about recognizing the good work that is finished in the time of a week. It is important to finish!
What did you actually finish as a good work this last week? Look back at that today and be saying to yourself: “Very good.” Thank God that you finished something important this last week!
The next thing that we see in Genesis is this idea that God “rested” on the Sabbath. Please note that God did not equivocate. God did not mumble and grumble. God did not do God’s taxes or some such task. God did not hold a party to celebrate either. God simply rested. That is the essence of the Sabbath ideal.
It is during times of rest that our bodies, minds, and spirits heal themselves! We need rest. Did you ever wonder why they put beds in hospitals? They could get more people in if they stood them up! It is because rest leads to healing. We must rest to heal. The Sabbath is about our time to heal after working hard.
I learned once from a swimming coach that one must rest the muscles in order to build muscle. One cannot just keep on exercising and exercising. The muscles will tear themselves down rather than grow strong. One can also in fact work one’s self to death with out time to rest.
The same swimming coach taught me how to rest in between strokes so that I could swim stronger and longer than otherwise. He called it “gliding” between strokes. That is important for life. Taking vacations to get away can be important, but resting in between our daily efforts is also greatly important. The rest on the seventh day is what we do to make ourselves strong.
On the Sabbath therefore, we finish; we rest; we heal. We glide in the water between strokes. In this way we stay strong for the long swim back to shore.
The second part of our reading for today then shows how that works in a practical sense. On the Sabbath Jesus heals a withered hand. Is that legal according to the Pharisees? No. They see that as work. Yet, the very essence of Sabbath is to heal the body and mind. So what could be wrong with Jesus healing?
We come to this place on the Lord’s Day, the Sabbath to reach out to Jesus to be healed. He is the Lord of our Sabbath. He calls out to us stretch out our hand to him. Look at our scripture for today: Jesus calls the man to stand and stretch out his hand to be healed. WE are this morning because we have been called by Jesus to stand and reach out for our own healing as well.
Matthew 11:28, Jesus said: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” That is our call to worship from Jesus. He will give us that rest as he is Lord of the Sabbath. When we stand and stretch our hands out we are rested and healed. Therefore, our rest is in our submission to God.
Isaiah 30:15, “For thus says the Lord God, the holy One of Israel; in returning and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Our salvation itself comes through our resting our bodies and mind in Christ. Our final rest is therefore our final healing.
Psalm 23, “He makes me to lie down in green pastures. . . .” WE always read this Psalm after the fact. We need to hear this in our daily lives, not just at funerals! God calls us to lie down in green pastures. God calls us to “rest in peace” while we are still breathing!
Last week we were honored with having little Noelle who was just born here in our church worship service. Noelle was so quiet while she was here. She did not make a sound. In fact, she fell asleep in church. And so, I will tell you that my sermons seem to have that affect on people that they want to rest, sleep, while I am speaking. Some pastors might be offended by this fact, but think that it is a Godly thing to allow someone to rest as God commanded on the Sabbath!
When I open up the church on Sunday mornings and see the crib in the nursery with the plush blankets and gushy pillows, I feel like crawling in. Let us find our rest, our inner peace, and heal ourselves in the goodness of God on Sundays! If you are feeling at all withered today, know that Jesus can heal that out of the goodness of God.