People matter more than things, even when those things are part of God’s Law. Jesus here claimed that he actually had authority over that Law for, “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath as well (12:8). The “son of man” is the one who carries God’s authority. This authority is to come into sharp conflict with the authority of the religious establishment and is to finally lead Jesus to the cross. Jesus and his disciples were not ordinary people anymore due to his claims and outrageous acts of power that he had performed. They were being watched by the Pharisees to see their loyalty to Judaism. Keeping the Sabbath was, one of the Ten Commandments, and it had been reinforced by the prophets and by subsequent Jewish teaching. It was one of the things that separated the Jews, over the centuries, from their pagan neighbors. Sabbath is one of the things that reminded them that they were God’s people.
Jesus acknowledged that his disciples had not observed the traditional Sabbath regulations, but pleaded special circumstances based on scripture. He puts himself on equal level with King David in the period when David, already anointed by Samuel but not yet enthroned (because Saul was still king), was on the run, gathering support, waiting for the time to come. The implication of the claim is that Jesus is the true king, marked out by God (presumably in his baptism) but not yet recognized and enthroned. He therefore has the right, when he and his disciples are hungry, to by-pass the normal regulations. In other words, this kind of Sabbath-breaking, so far from being an act of casual or defiant civil disobedience, is a deliberate sign, like the refusal to fast: a sign that the King is here, that the kingdom is breaking in, that instead of waiting for old creation to come to its point of rest the new creation is already bursting upon the old world. “The son of man” (see Dan 7), the Messiah, the true representative human being, has authority over institutions that might otherwise repress human beings and stand in the way of God’s love for people and the Sabbath had become one of those institutions. Here we see that Jesus is the best and authoritative interpreter of the Torah not the Pharisees and hence the one with the authority.
The next story is that of the healing of the Man with the withered hand. For a Jew in Jesus’ world,the sabbath was a national flag that spoke of freedom to come, of hope for the great day of rest when God would finally liberate Israel from pagan oppression. It looked back to the creation of the world and to the Exodus from Egypt, and marked out those who kept it as God’s special people, God’s faithful and hopeful people; it was a commandment deeply embedded in the Jewish scriptures but the Pharisees attitude nullified the point of the commandment namely; celebrating God’s creation and redemption, past, present and future. Could the church today be repeating the same mistake by focusing on people’s behavior rather than loving them as God does?