THE QUESTION whether Jesus was a Sabbath-breaker or not, arose again soon after he came back to Galilee. On a Sabbath day Jesus was walking with his disciples through the fields of grain. Some of the disciples were hungry, and as they walked picked the heads of the wheat, rubbed them in their hands, blew away the chaff and ate the kernels of grain. The law of the Israelites allowed anyone walking by a field of grain to help himself to all that he wished to eat, but forbade him to take any to his home.
But to the Pharisees, who were very exact in their rules of keeping the Sabbath, to pluck the grain was the same as reaping it with a sickle, to carry it in the hand was the same as bearing a load, and to rub it in the hands was the same as thrashing; and to do these on the seventh day of the week was breaking the Sabbath. These were rules, not given by God, but made by the scribes; and Jesus had already taught his disciples to pay no attention to them.
The Pharisees were constantly watching Jesus and his followers, to catch them, if possible, in doing or saying something that might be thought wrong. They said to Jesus:
“Do you see that your disciples are doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath day; picking the ears of grain, carrying handfuls of them and rubbing them in their hands?”
“Have you never read,” answered Jesus, “what David did when he was flying from King Saul; how he went into the house of God and took away the holy bread, laid on the table as an offering to God, which was to be eaten by the priests only; ate it himself and gave it to the men that were with him? And do you not know that the priests in the Temple do all kinds of work, killing animals for the offering, placing wood on the altar and many other things; yet they do right, for these things are necessary, and whatever is needful may be done on God’s holy day. The Sabbath was made for the good of man and not man for the Sabbath. I tell you that One greater than the Temple is here, for the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”
On another Sabbath day Jesus went into the church to worship God and to preach the word. A man was there whose hand was withered and helpless. The Pharisees watched Jesus to see if he would cure this man on the Sabbath. They hoped he would cure him, not because they cared for the poor, crippled man, but because they were eager to find something to say against Jesus.
Jesus spoke to the man with the withered hand, “Stand up and come forward.” The man stood up before them all; and then Jesus, looking straight at his enemies, said:
“Is it against the law on the Sabbath day to do good or to do harm; to save a life, or to try to kill a man, as you are trying to do? If one of you men owns a single sheep, and he should happen on the Sabbath day to find it fallen into a pit, would he not take hold of it and lift it out? And how much more is a man worth than a sheep? Thus it is right to do a kind and helpful act on the Sabbath. ”
He looked around sternly at his enemies, being sad and grieved because their hearts were so hard. They did not have a word to say; and after waiting a moment he turned to the man with the withered hand and said:
“Stretch out your hand!”
He reached out his arm, and the withered hand was at once made well and strong, as sound as the other.
Jesus went away, but the Pharisees were filled with anger against him. They talked together, seeking some way to kill Jesus; and they called upon the friends of King Herod, the ruler of Galilee, to see if they could not persuade the king to order that Jesus should be put to death.
But Jesus went on teaching and curing those that were sick, paying no attention to the plans of his enemies. He told those whom he cured, not to go out and speak to others about him, but to stay quietly at home; for the crowds coming to hear him were already great, and he did not wish them to be any greater. So many people came together from all parts of the land, and even from places outside the land of Israel, from the country of Tyre and Sidon on the north and from Edom or Idumea on the south. They thronged around Jesus, and pressed upon him; so that he spoke to his disciples to have a little boat at hand, to wait upon him, and take him out into the lake for quiet and rest.