Friday, March 29, 2013

From Now On, I'm Breaking the Rules

Jesus gets in trouble for breaking the rules and rejecting the bible and such in Matthew 12:1-14. (And check out the rage comic for this passage too.)

First, Jesus and his disciples are walking through a field, and the disciples are snacking on the grain growing there. (By the way, Deuteronomy 23:25 says this is okay.) But the Pharisees gave Jesus a hard time about it because it was the Sabbath, and you know, you're not supposed to work on the Sabbath.

And I remember years ago, reading this passage, and wondering whether there was a specific law in the Old Testament that said "yeah picking little grains with your hands counts as work" or if that was just the Pharisees' own interpretation of "do not work."

Because, I reasoned, OBVIOUSLY it would be okay for Jesus to break the Pharisees' silly rules. They're not allowed to add rules to the bible, that's just wrong. But of course it wouldn't be okay to pick the grains if somewhere in the Old Testament it explicitly said not to pick the grains. Right?

A distinction between God's seemingly-arbitrary rules and man's seemingly-arbitrary rules. But now I'm not so sure. Maybe thinking of it in those terms misses Jesus' entire point.

Let's keep on reading...

So, the Pharisees give Jesus a hard time about this, and Jesus says, "Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread— which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

Jesus is talking about the account in 1 Samuel 21, when David was running from Saul, who was trying to kill him. David goes to Ahimelek the priest and asks for bread and weapons. David lies and says the king sent him, and talks Ahimelek into giving him the "consecrated bread" (which they decide is okay because "the men have kept themselves from women" which is probably the most sexist and objectifying euphemism for not having sex I've ever heard).

Oh, and then Saul found out about it and killed all the priests (except one!) and the whole town.

So umm, that's kind of awkward that Jesus is using this story as justification for his disciples breaking the Sabbath. David lied, and the whole thing kind of ended badly.

But what I wanted to know, that time long ago when I read this story, was whether it was actually explicitly stated in the biblical law that ONLY priests could eat the bread, or did it just say the bread was generally for the priests (without forbidding them to give it away)? Was David actually breaking a law by taking the bread?

It seems like he wasn't, not exactly. Leviticus 24:5-9 gives the instructions for baking this bread and having it sit in the tabernacle, and then it belongs to the priests and they eat it. So it's for the priests, but the bible never exactly says no one else is allowed to have any.

But in this perspective, it's still all about following rules. Following the correct rules, the rules the bible actually says, not the rules that other people added to it. And I think, in this passage, Jesus is taking a stand against that kind of rigid adherence to rules when it comes at the expense of ACTUAL PEOPLE with ACTUAL NEEDS.

Because if you try to follow all the individual rules you believe the bible says apply to you, well, what if your interpretation of the bible is wrong? Wasn't that what the Pharisees were doing- the bible says "don't work on the Sabbath" and they interpreted it to mean you can't even pick a few bits of grain here or there. Is Jesus giving an alternate interpretation, an alternate set of rules to obey, or is he saying that entire ideology is WRONG and DANGEROUS? 

"I desire mercy, not sacrifice," says Jesus, citing Hosea 6:6.

Next, Jesus meets a man with a shriveled hand on the Sabbath. The Pharisees used him as a test, asking Jesus: "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

They saw this man, suffering and in need, and saw only a theological question.

In Mark's account, Jesus "looked around at them in anger... deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts."

And I'm angry too.

Image source.

I'm so angry at the way Christians USE gay people as a test to see who is and who is not a "real" Christian. "Is homosexuality a sin?" They don't ask that question because they want to know the answer. They ask so they can determine which side you're on. Are you a real Christian who actually takes the bible seriously, or are you one of those false teachers who waters down the gospel and hates America and wants to destroy society and thinks that gay people are ACTUAL PEOPLE who are MADE IN THE FREAKING IMAGE OF GOD and MAYBE WE'RE SUPPOSED TO LOVE EACH OTHER BY NOT INSISTING WE KNOW THEIR NEEDS BETTER THAN THEY DO?

The bible is clear you can't work on the Sabbath. So, Jesus, are we going to follow God's standard, or are we going to do what feels right to us?

"Then he said to the man, 'Stretch out your hand.' So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus."

And THAT is a God I can follow.


This post is part of a series on the gospel of Matthew.

Previous post: Woe. (Matthew 11:20-30)

Next post: For the Bruised Reeds (Matthew 12:15-21)

Click here to go to the beginning of the series.


  1. As a gay man and a Christian, I'm frequently told that they are mutually exclusive, or that I can't be both, or that I must choose which I truly follow. I'm glad to see a post of this nature, showing just how false that viewpoint can be.

  2. "They saw a man, suffering and in need, and saw only a theological question." LOVE this.

  3. Thanks for commenting. :) I'm so tired of getting in arguments on the internet about my support for gay rights, but then I remember there are gay Christians that are misunderstood by everyone, and I really want to support people like you- my brothers and sisters in Christ.