When I was growing up one of the game I liked the most was hide and seek. Yet, this was no ordinary hide and seek with friends. Teams were developed and as well as strategies for rarely being discovered. I remember spending precious free time in school drawing maps that had detailed escape routes for the six houses we decided would mark boundaries. Aerial views of the neighbors’ homes, as well as each shed, shrub, and tree, were etched in pencil and in my mind. Some hiding spots were never revealed to my friends. I reveled in the intrigue.
Once in a while, a secret hiding spot was exposed. Consequently, the escape routes and routines came to light as well. So, because it was basically my desire to play serious hide and seek, I had to change the boundaries of the playing field. I’d make it fair to add an extra front or backyard area, or even hide behind the banks of the low running creek. It was our game so we’d change the rules when it benefitted the game.
Imagine Jesus not necessarily changing the rules in Mark 2:23-28, but changing the way the game was going to be played entirely. Let’s read the text first.
“One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, ‘Look, why are they not doing what is lawful on the Sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he was in need and when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which was not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?’ And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So, the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.'”
This is an odd scene even though we’ve heard it often. What in the world were the Pharisees doing following Jesus and the disciples through grain fields? It almost seems like the Pharisees were a type of religious tabloid company. Imagine a publication called the Jewish Enquirer or the Daily Temple being distributed. Yet, it seems that’s about as powerful that the Pharisees were. They were almost like paparazzi trying to dig up any dirt on popular movements. They certainly wouldn’t have wasted their time checking up on the average Jew.
That’s just it. Jesus was no average Jew. His healings, exorcisms, parables, and claims were causing intrigue. The Pharisees wanted to know if he was loyal to the traditions of Sabbath observance. It’s difficult to grasp the complexity of the Pharisees’ accusation. What exactly were they disturbed by? Myers describes the activity of plucking the heads of grain to be a no-no because once the grain had been removed from the ground it was now legally owned by the state. This wasn’t so much a matter of someone working on the Sabbath as it was a matter of what was lawful on the Sabbath (2:24). Jesus responds as if he’s entitled to break the traditions and he uses the Scriptures to justify his and his disciples’ actions.
For those who know their ‘dirt’ frontward and backward the Pharisees are going to find themselves as those who live in glass houses. “Have you never read?” says Jesus. How subdermal it must have felt for the Pharisees to hear Jesus’ response. Of course, they’ve read and know very well how David fed himself and his men while he was king elect, waiting until God would establish his throne, even though Saul was still in power. Of course, they know that David took the bread which was lawful only for the priests to eat. Jesus is driving home his point to those looking for dirt for another tabloid smearing. Jesus is illustrating that he is a king in waiting, waiting to be enthroned (only his enthronement will be on a cross) and that because he is king he not only has the right to change the rules, he has the right to make the rules because the king is the rule maker. This King, in fact, created the Sabbath specifically for Himself and is now using the otherwise casual activity of plucking heads of grain to demonstrate that God’s kingdom has arrived. The Son of Man, a very familiar appellative for the Messianic figure in Daniel, would bring a new dawning for Israel, a new kind of sovereignty, unlike the governments of the world. The time was now and it was time to shed light through symbolic activity, like the refusal to participate in the traditional national fasts, that Jesus is no average man behaving like a rogue Jew. He is no average man protesting Sabbath regulations. Instead, Jesus is the Lord, the One who makes the rules. Better yet, Jesus exposes the Pharisees’ attempt to exploit the poor with their “house rules” and demonstrates solidarity with the oppressed.
Jesus is exactly the kind of wise King Daniel predicted. Jesus is the real owner of the “house” and he’s “changing” the rules for the benefit of God’s kingdom.