Laws are meant to be adhered to... unless they're meant to be broken...
Mark 2:23-3:6 23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" 25 And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." 27 Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."
1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." 4 Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
For many of us who live in the city, we've seen keys like the one above — you know, the ones that are "illegal" to copy. Yet how many of us have still taken them to a local hardware store to have copies made? I personally don't know why they have this stamp emblazoned on them. I don't know why they aren't to be duplicated. I don't know why such a law exists.
Then there are the laws that make sense, like how it's illegal to kill a person, to take a life. Or like how it's against the law to take another person's property away, as if it were your own. When it comes to lawmaking, one would like to believe that those with the authority to make the laws have the best interests of their people at heart. Yet we know that there are laws that hurt too, laws that do harm. When those laws are made, we find ourselves searching for someone to come to the rescue, for someone to make things right. And thanks to modern (and not so modern) media, we've got some good images that come to mind.
Okay, so maybe I'm not a true comic book nerd who can rattle off superheroes like Poptart flavors (I'm also hungry... sue me)...
This is one of those passages that brings a very vibrant image of Jesus to mind — not the gentle, soft, sweet Jesus, but the fierce, intimidating, overwhelmingly authoritative Jesus. In the passage above, we encounter the Jesus who came to challenge the status quo, who came to turn things upside down. This is the Jesus who came to remind us that adherence to a law or commandment means nothing if doing so tears us away from the true heart of God.
Jesus is out with the guys, being their typical homeless, socialist vagabond selves, when the disciples simply start plucking some wheat. They haven't gone into full harvest mode. Our best guess is that they're just getting enough for themselves. What's interesting is that, at the surface, it appears that Jesus and the disciples are actually spending time with the Pharisees. Sure, they could be yelling at them from across the way, but I find it a little more scandalous to imagine Jesus spending time with the men who are after his head, who are out for blood.
Jesus responds with a story they all would have known, a story that came after the Law was written, a story reminding them that their once beloved King David had "broken" the law of the sabbath... and God hadn't said a thing. There was no chastisement, even though David's transgression was far worse, far more outrageous than plucking some wheat. Yet the man after God's own heart had received no punishment or even a slight warning for his "crime."
Just to prove a point, to remind these religious leaders of his authority and Sonship, he finds a man with a withered hand and, after asking a question that gets to the heart of the Sabbath, heals him. The Pharisees, stunned into silence, go into full attack mode and begin conspiring against Jesus.
For us, the question is this: what good is legalism, what benefit is there to blind faith, if it doesn't lead is into right relationship with God, with self, and with neighbor? How does self-righteous asceticism make us more like God? How does lording our "morality" over others evince God's love flowing into us and out of us? Often, to be on God's side means challenging the status quo, means turning the world upside down, even at the risk of our own lives. After all, doesn't Jesus teach us that the greatest example of love we can set is the willingness to lay down our lives for those around us...