Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law

Our church was Sunday-sabbatarian. We believed Jewish Sabbath laws were transferred to Sunday, so we did no work on Sundays. In our home, we cooked Sunday meals on Saturday and washed the dishes on Monday. As a child I built a fort in the back yard but was concerned about working on it Sundays, even though it was really play. I decided against it.

One church lady complained about people working Sundays in hospitals. She said if people refused to work Sundays then God would assure that no one needed medical care that day.

Years later, I wrote a research paper on the Lord’s Day Alliance (which promoted Sunday as the Sabbath), and from what I learned I no longer accepted Sunday as the Sabbath.

Later still, as a Christian bookstore manager, an Adventist customer who enjoyed discussing theology with me stated that Sunday was NOT the Sabbath; and I replied, “Of course not.” He was shocked. I told him we didn’t honor Sunday as a Christian Sabbath but because it recalled Jesus’ resurrection. We observed no ‘Sabbath’ at all.

Jesus did not end Sabbath observance during his ministry, but he set the stage for it.

Grain-field Photo by Go2anna

Grain-field Photo by Go2anna (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Picking Grain on the Sabbath

We’ve discussed various conflicts in Jesus’ early work—conflicts involving forgiving sins, eating with sinners, and not fasting. Today we learn about the most serious conflict yet.

Mark 2 says:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

We might wonder why the disciples were picking grain from another person’s field, but Deuteronomy 23 states that ‘If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.’ Still, the Pharisees thought it inappropriate because of God’s commandment in Exodus 34: Six days you shall labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during the plowing season and harvest you must rest.

This is a general commandment, but the Pharisees were far along in developing detailed rules on what labor was disallowed on the Sabbath.

Jesus disagreed with them.

He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

Now David’s action had nothing to do with the Sabbath, but it did concern a variance from the Law; so Jesus’ point is that the Law is flexible rather than rigid. Jesus made a stand against legalism, and many legalists today could benefit by reflecting on Jesus’ statement—including his concluding pronouncement.

Then 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.”

In a time when people labored every day, the Law instituted the Sabbath to provide relief and an opportunity to spend quality time with God and family. But the Pharisees had bound the Sabbath rest with heavy legalistic burdens. In contrast, Jesus declared that people were not made to observe legalistic Sabbath rules. The Sabbath was given as a benefit to people.

People are more important than the Sabbath. This becomes even more clear in the second Sabbath conflict that follows immediately.

Jesus Breaks the Sabbath by Healing

Mark 3 reports:

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

It seems the Pharisees understand Jesus’ loose attitude toward the Sabbath and watch to see if he will violate it again. The synagogue was the Pharisees’ domain, and today he is in THEIR synagogue; what will he do?

Jesus is aware of the situation and asks the disabled man to stand up; this creates immediate tension.

Then Jesus asks them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

Actually, it was lawful to save lives on the Sabbath, but this healing could easily wait until the next day. Jesus’ challenge was deeper. Doing good on the Sabbath is an open concept at odds with Pharisaic rules that preempted personal judgment.

Matthew 12 adds a story not found in Mark, and Luke 14 uses a similar story in another context.

He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

The tension and anticipation must have been very high for everyone in the synagogue: Jesus, the Pharisees, observers, the disabled man. This was a public confrontation between the wills of the authoritative Pharisees and of Jesus, whose healing and teaching made him a very public figure with enthusiastic followers.

Something had to give.

The End of the Beginning and the Beginning of the End

In this moment of high tension:

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Jesus acted suddenly: he asked the man to stretch out his disabled hand, and he restored it—simple as that. In doing so, he demonstrated his own authority over legalistic rules.

The reaction was just as rapid and deliberate: the Pharisees joined with agents of the ruler, Herod Antipas, to plan Jesus’ destruction. The government didn’t want Rome investigating a potential rabble-rouser in their turf.

This is a big break-point in Jesus’ work. He stood up against the Pharisees, and now Jesus is in big trouble with both the religious and political establishments. It is the end of the beginning of Jesus’ work, which we have been reading over the past few weeks; and it is the beginning of the end. From this point the Pharisees are increasingly hostile.

It is also the end of this series: Jesus Begins His Work. Next time we will discuss what we have learned about Jesus, and we will decide together what direction the blog goes from here.

Articles in this series

Jesus Begins His Work

The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One
Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment?
Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God?
Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work?
Did Jesus Really Heal People?
Do Demons Exist?
Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing
Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser!
Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast
Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems
Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law
What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’?


I need your help! Jesus without Baggage is growing and has been ever since it began almost three years ago. However, it is not growing as quickly as it should; I have fewer than 1500 followers. If you enjoy this blog and approve of its message, there are several things you can do.
1. If you do not follow Jesus without Baggage, consider following the blog either by email or by liking the Jesus without Baggage Facebook page. You can do either one, or both, in the column to the right just below the archives box.
2. Share the posts you like with your friends by any method you wish. There are several sharing options below this message that make it easy to do; if you want more options, let me know and I will add them. You can also share directly from the Jesus without Baggage Facebook page.
3. Comment on the posts to let us know how you feel about, respond to, or add to, the content. Comments make the posts more interesting for readers and also help me to know how I can better proceed in the future. I make many decisions based on comments.
If you can do any or all of these things it will make Jesus without Baggage stronger and more effective. Thank you so much for your support; you don’t know how much I appreciate it.
This entry was posted in authority, Jesus, legalism, Pharisees and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Jesus Gets into Trouble for Disrespecting the Law

  1. consultgtf says:

    Let us understand the basic, NAKED TRUTH.
    What we are discussing in this forum about people and culture which was existing 2000 Years BACK, we are talking about yearly iron age, Which means people with more IQ would have excelled.

    Very similar to many people who questioned, the basic culture which was followed, because it was followed…but with reason! but it was applicable at its conception time.

    We, who are living in urban cities do we know what is the meaning of Agriculture? How is basic grain supplied to end product, what we call our food, it can be pizza or roti or Parota,Rice? We can see this in You Tube, though but can’t experience it.

    In India, we have Gautama Buddha, ShankaraChariya… So many others in their native places can tell better…though.

    So, the conclusion is “Just because, we were using car for traveling, and it is equipped with A/C we don’t know what it means to ride a camel! and get dirty, so washing your hand was a rule, for your good, the religion has got nothing to do with this, IT IS LIKE ASKING OUR CHILDREN TO BRUSH their teeth, maybe after few years, it will be you just goggle and it cleans better.

    People from South Korea/Japan will support me, as only they will appreciate SUNDAY (SABBATH) as a non-working day! because they work for more than 68 hrs/week for SK, while 16 hrs per day in Japan.
    The present generation, under going this, will advice for less than 40 hrs working but will a child who is born maybe 1000 year later, will laugh when you instruct them to take Sunday as mandatory off, as they have seen and maybe working, only for few hours a day,

    That is cultural change, don’t blame GOD for this! AND GIVE CREDIT TO ONE PERSON with more IQ, and has guts to question.
    As nothing has changed, maybe life expectancy has come down from 120 to less than 60!
    But life has become more pathetic.


  2. sheila0405 says:

    This was a good series. I appreciate how the time line was laid out, with side references to other Gospels. I felt as if I was traveling along with Jesus.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thanks Sheila! I am glad you enjoyed the series and that it seems to have flowed well for you as a developing series. That is what I was hoping for.

      Next Monday I will share several options for the next series along with a poll for readers to choose the one they prefer. I have never done a poll before; I hope people do express their preferences.


  3. Interesting stuff Tim – thanks.

    I think as so often with Jesus, it isn’t a choice between keeping-the-law Pharisaism and rejecting-the-law anarchy. It’s a call to a deeper, more compassionate, thought-through way of living that seeks to understand and embody the principles that the law was originally getting at.

    So the Sabbath idea is potentially a good thing – allowing workers to rest, giving people space to reflect, taking our focus off mere survival and business. But when it becomes a meaningless burden or a moralistic rallying point, it’s time to rethink.

    My understanding is that Jesus fulfils the Sabbath, and in a sense *becomes* our Sabbath – in him we can now find rest, refreshment, renewal, so we no longer need a particular day or observance. But if observing a day is a helpful discipline for us it may still be okay for now – so long as it doesn’t become a requirement. Perhaps.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Well said throughout, Harvey! You add several excellent additional insights, and I agree with all of them. Certainly we don’t want anarchy any more than we want legalism; you are correct that the right balance is found in Jesus’ principles of love and compassion.

      I like your thought that the Sabbath (or something like it) can be a good thing if it is not taken on as a legalistic burden.


    • Chas says:

      Harvey, I’m with you on the Sabbath idea being a good thing. It has been necessary for me to work on a Sunday in the past, so I have some experience of it. People working in retail also have public holidays taken from them and replaced with any day that suits the employer (i.e. a special day when other people are not working becomes replaced by an ordinary day). Clearly that gives scope for having a quiet day off away from other people, but the chance to interact with them is lost.


      • Yes, absolutely. Jesus seems to suggest that the Sabbath concept is primarily for our sake (rather than God’s), and in particular to give rest to workers who might otherwise get exploited – I think there are some lines specifically about that in the Mosaic law. I’m sure that’s not the only point of it, but there’s certainly a principle about rest and about not overworking yourself or forcing other people to.

        I’m pretty sure that Jesus is more concerned about that kind of thing than about dutiful religious observance. Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with setting aside particular times for worship and prayer if that helps though.


    • sheila0405 says:

      This is so beautifully stated!


  4. Chas says:

    Tim, you have provided me with good education. I could never figure how the disciples could pick corn heads from someone else’s field and not be stealing. Your quote from Deut 23 explains that, but fails to explain how that order could have authority over one of the 10 Commandments. There is also the problem of how the word ‘neighbor’ would be interpreted in the OT.


    • sheila0405 says:

      It was a matter of following the requirements about sharing, I think. You can see how the law on gleaning helped Ruth in the book so named.


      • Chas says:

        I was aware of the gleaning rules, which were provided to help poor people survive, but going into somebody else’s field and just helping yourself (albeit to the limit of what you could eat at the time) seems a bit extreme. In Ruth’s case, what she was advised to do by her mother-in-law also seems a bit extreme, as she was potentially putting Ruth in a position where she could have been raped. It seems that the writer of the book of Ruth wanted us to accept that Boaz was known as an honorable man. In truth, many women have been raped by men whom they thought were honorable.


        • sheila0405 says:

          It’s not that Det 23 has authority over 10 Commandments. They were the basic framework. The rules fleshed out the spirit behind them. Anyway, the Pentateuch was written after the Exile, anyway, so that has to be incorporated into understanding of Jewish identity in Jesus’ day.


      • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

        Good point on Ruth, Sheila.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Chas, I can only assume a resolution to your question of the conflict between Deut. 23 and the 10 commandments. First of all, I assume that gathering a handful from another person’s crops was not considered stealing or coveting. The full text from the Deut. 23 passage actually prohibits ‘stealing’.

      Secondly, I think we must consider how the practice came to be understood by the Jews in Jesus’ time.

      By the way, as a Florida boy I used to sometimes pick an orange from a grove as I walked by to eat as I was walking. The grove owners did not care, but they were furious when tourists stopped and filled their car trunks with citrus. It was a balanced societal understanding.


  5. Jesus definitely seems to redefine the God of the Old Testament. I used to wonder how the two could coexist, but I’m starting to think that Jesus as the full revelation of God corrects the misunderstandings Israel had about what kind of God they served. Many times the Old Testament seems to take cues from paganism about what God looks like, but the New Testament starts repeating Jesus is what God looks like. This brings up a lot of questions I’ve been asking lately that push me outside the boundaries of fundamentalism. Thanks for your post! I enjoyed it.


  6. fiddlrts says:

    My wife the nurse would laugh about your Church Lady quote. One hopes she saw the light if she ever ended up in the hospital for more than the (correct) six days.

    Of course, the other “rule” that gets regularly invoked against nurses is the one about women belonging in the home, not in the workforce. (Not the way I believe, clearly, but there you have it.)

    One of the major changes I have made in my thinking over the last several years (and your blog has been a part of my journey, Tim) is to consider the implications of “Man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for man.” It seems this should not be limited to just the one issue. The law – the rules – were not given as an arbitrary test to see if mankind would obey against their better judgment. They were given for a beneficial purpose. As Harvey notes, the concept of a day of rest is a *great* one! We *should* seek to order our society so that everyone (even the lower income) can afford to take a day off each week to rest, rebuild, rejuvenate. But the spirit of the law does not require that nurses cease to heal on the sabbath.

    When I consider other rules, then, I am now trying to figure out what benefit was intended. The letter of the rule is less important than the spirit. Given our vastly different culture, many beneficial rules will be less than beneficial if implemented in our own world they way they were 3000 years ago. For me now, I am seeking less to base things on “the Bible says” than on “how can we bring the benefit that this law intended to fruition in our own circumstances.” That’s a very different thing.


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Fiddlrts, thanks for your excellent comments. I really like your insightful observation: “‘Man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath for man.’ It seems this should not be limited to just the one issue. The law – the rules – were not given as an arbitrary test to see if mankind would obey against their better judgment. They were given for a beneficial purpose.” This helps me, and I think it is the right direction.

      We should all take your advice to examine the laws to see how we can bring their intended benefit to our circumstances.


      • Chas says:

        Tim, I remember a prominent leader in a Pentecostal denomination being interviewed on non-Christian TV and he explained that the 10 Commandments should be read as: ‘You ought not to do …. these things, otherwise people will get hurt’. It made good sense then and it still does.


    • tonycutty says:



  7. tonycutty says:

    “Years later, I wrote a research paper on the Lord’s Day Alliance (which promoted Sunday as the Sabbath), and from what I learned I no longer accepted Sunday as the Sabbath.”

    Interesting how putting a little thought and research into the subject exposes the legalism BS for what it really is! This would apply to many things that we believe these days, I am sure 😉


    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Tony, the problem with many people is that they are tied to the religious beliefs they have been taught; additional information is not necessary. They are not interested in considering other perspective or even hearing about them.


      • sheila0405 says:

        Wish I could tweet this reply.


      • Chas says:

        Tim, the early church seemed to be experiencing problems from the Judaic believers, as we see disapproval of the Jewish traditions of the Pharisees (in Mark 7) and this can also be seen, elsewhere, in the reference to: ‘whitewashed tombs containing bones and other unclean things’. I think that this latter passage refers to traditions that have been handed down from self-righteous people now long dead.


    • Chas says:

      Long before I became a believer, I had an amusing meeting with a Sunday Observance zealot. It was Sunday and I needed something from the local DIY store to complete a job around the house. When I got there, this guy was there with a placard. He tried to speak to me as I came up, but I went in and bought what I needed, then came out and spoke to him. After we had talked for a couple of minutes, he admitted that he was something of a hypocrite since he regularly bought gasoline on a Sunday (and he worked too, as he was the pastor of a small local church).


  8. tonycutty says:

    “The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?””

    And I have often wondered these things about this passage: What were the Pharisees doing in the grainfield themselves? Picking grain? Or were they just following Jesus around to pick fault, in which case they were working. Or maybe they were just hassling Him in their free time? In which case they were totally sad and should have been resting on their Sabbath instead of walking around being a nuisance.

    Who watches the watchers?


  9. Pingback: What Do We Learn from ‘Jesus Begins His Work’? | Jesus Without Baggage

  10. Pingback: Entering the Kingdom Requires Abandoning Old Religious Systems | Jesus Without Baggage

  11. Pingback: Jesus Refuses to Ask His Disciple to Fast | Jesus Without Baggage

  12. Pingback: Jesus Calls a Fifth Follower—and What a Loser! | Jesus Without Baggage

  13. Pingback: Jesus Adds a Shocking Twist to Healing | Jesus Without Baggage

  14. Pingback: Did Jesus Really Heal People? | Jesus Without Baggage

  15. Pingback: Why Didn’t Jesus Recruit Better Help for His Galilean Work? | Jesus Without Baggage

  16. Pingback: Does Jesus Disagree with John the Baptist’s Message of the Coming Judgment of God? | Jesus Without Baggage

  17. Pingback: Do Jesus’ Words and Actions Demonstrate Empathy — or Judgment? | Jesus Without Baggage

  18. Pingback: The Beginning of the Good News about Jesus the Anointed One | Jesus Without Baggage

Comments are closed.