"The Sabbath comes like a caress,” Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “wiping away fear, sorrow, and somber memories.” But for many in Jesus’ day, the required observance of the seventh day was a burden, not a blessing. In their attempt to preserve the sacred nature of the day, the religious leaders had encumbered worshipers with a load of restrictions.
As Jesus’ disciples walked through grain fields, they began to pick the grain and eat it. This was permissible according to Mosaic Law (see Deut. 23:25). The Pharisees were offended, however, that this happened on the Sabbath. They considered the disciples’ behavior to be a form of work.
When Jesus was challenged to explain their actions, He appealed to an incident from the life of David. While David was fleeing from Saul, he stopped at the priestly city of Nob and asked for food for his men. The only food available was the bread that was normally placed before the Lord in the tabernacle (1 Sam. 21:4). This bread was normally eaten only by the priests (see Lev. 24:9), but they gave it to David.
Jesus’ point argued from the lesser to the greater. If David had the right to do this, Jesus has even more authority. Jesus was not merely arguing that the disciples had not violated Sabbath law. He was claiming divine authority. As the Son of Man (i.e., the Messiah), Jesus was also Lord of the Sabbath. He had the authority to declare what was lawful or unlawful to do.
Jesus was correcting the rigid practice of his contemporaries. But He was also alluding to His role as the One who fulfills the Law on our behalf. The Sabbath was great but Jesus is greater. He not only defines what constitutes legitimate rest, Jesus is the source of our rest.