The Paradox in the Grainfield
In our text, we have a paradox before us. How in one and the same grainfield where Christ is present can there be people joyfully walking, picking heads of fresh grain and eating them with satisfaction, and others sourly watching and accusing them of breaking God's Law? Do you think it's because these two groups understand God's Law differently? No, it's because they understand Christ and His righteousness differently.
If the understanding of the Law is the problem between the disciples and the Pharisees, why doesn't Jesus just say so? This is what some do with this passage. They say that since Deuteronomy 23:25 says it's okay to pluck grain from your neighbor's grainfield, the disciples weren't really doing wrong. Others say that the Pharisees' interpretation against working on the Sabbath is much stricter than Jesus'. They had over 1,500 things that they believed violated the Sabbath Day. So they considered it wrong to pick and rub the grain in the hands as Luke says they were doing. Still others say that Law of Moses must yield to the higher law of love. Since the disciples were hungry the Sabbath Law didn't come into play here, the Law of love did.
If the difference between what the Pharisees did and what the disciples did was just a matter of differing interpretations of the Law, why didn't Jesus just say so? He could have said, "You're wrong. The Law doesn't forbid what My disciples are doing." Or, "The Sabbath Law must yield to the Law of love." Why didn't Jesus do this? For 2 reasons: answering the Law with more Law doesn't silence it. Second, the interpretation of the Law wasn't the real controversy between them, where holiness came from was.
If Jesus had responded with Law to the Pharisees' accusation based on Law, there would be no comfort for the consciences of the disciples. You know this yourself. When the Law confronts you and you try to respond with the Law saying what you're doing isn't really wrong or a higher law comes into play, you still don't have peace. A person can never be right with God under the Law. The Law always accuses. The Law is never satisfied. It concludes, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." "There is none righteous no not one," the Law says. Appealing to any and all Laws can never justify a person before the holy God.
In fact, when we try to answer the Law with Law, we only increase sins. The Law is no help against sins. Paul says sin through the Commandments produces only more sins. According to Romans 7 apart from the Law sin is dead, but with the Law sin is very much alive. Contrary to what most people believe the Law provides no help in answering accusations of sins or in controlling sin. O it can curb gross outward acts of sin by terrifying a person. But Paul says in Colossians 2 that it's of no value in controlling the passions of the flesh.
We know this by experience. When we see a "wet paint" sign, we have the desire to touch the paint. When we get a "nothing to eat or drink after midnight" order from our doctor, although we hardly ever eat or drink that late anyway, we're plagued with a desire to eat and drink. Had Jesus responded to the Pharisees' accusation against the disciples with a different interpretation of the Law or a higher law of love, He would have been posting "wet paint" signs and "nothing to eat or drink after midnight" orders in their consciences. Rather than be oppressed by the Law the Pharisees were asserting they would have been oppressed by new Laws given by Christ. What joy would there be then? They could only feel good when they were in total compliance with His Laws, and could that ever be the case?
Do you know the only way to silence the ever accusing voice of the Law in your conscience? Admit that it's right. I'm sure you've been here before. You're accused of something either by your own conscience or someone else's. You try to answer with your interpretation of the Law, but that doesn't help. The "your wrong, your guilty, your sinning" is not silenced by you saying, "I'm not wrong; I'm not guilty; I'm not sinning." You only start down the road of peace when you say, "The Law is right." You only move toward peace when you stop debating what is and isn't sin about you and confess that there is nothing about you that is not sinful.
This is exactly how Jesus handles the accusations against His disciples. They're wrong. What they're doing is no more lawful than what David did when he ate the special bread. This is what Luther concluded. He said Jesus here admits they violated the Sabbath Law. Exodus 34:21 says, "Even during plowing time and harvest time you shall rest." That Jesus is admitting the guilt of the disciples is proven by the passage Jesus directs the Pharisees to, I Samuel 21. When David came to the high priest seeking food, he lied to the priest about what he was doing there. He said the king had sent him on a matter when in fact he was fleeing for his life from the king. No one could say David deserved the bread under the Law especially after he lied.
However, when David spoke to the priest he claimed his men had a holiness beyond what even the Law required for the eating of this special bread. But wait a minute. David and his men have no holiness at all under the Law. They are guilty under it. They can be nothing but guilty under it. But David knows a righteousness beyond the Law, one by faith not by works, one based on Whom they believe not what they do. He can ask for the bread because they have the righteousness of Christ which makes them fit to eat the bread. Dear friends, how else do you and I eat the special Bread of the Holy Communion, the very body of Christ but by His righteousness?
Now as the disciples are walking through the grainfield on the Sabbath there is a holiness here above what any Sabbath keeping could ever bring. It is based on the Lord of Sabbath, Jesus Christ the righteous one. Yes, the disciples are guilty of breaking the Sabbath even as David was guilty of breaking the rules about the special bread. Actually, they're guilty of all sins because the one who sins against the Law in one area is guilty of breaking the whole Law according to James. And cursed is anyone who does not abide in all that the Law says, says Paul. The Law of God was meant to make them guilty especially the ceremonial Law. No one could be guiltless under it because you were guilty for normal bodily functions. No one could find peace under the ceremonial law. In fact, Hebrews says it was a constant reminder of sins.
The disciples holiness and innocence was walking with them in the field. Their holiness and innocence was not based on the fact that they never sinned in thought, word, or deed because indeed they did. If they could only eat once they had kept every Law that God had ever given, they could never eat Sabbath or no Sabbath. But God had instituted the Sabbath, which means rest, to bring rest to them from the Law. They were to do no work on this day, so that they could hear all that God in Christ would work for them. It was to be a day of rest, so they would never believe that they were saved, fed, or forgiven based on anything they did. No, they were cared for based on what Christ did.
By eating, they were in fact confessing that God in Christ had made them worthy and righteous to eat in joy. They were not looking at themselves and their guilty consciences but at the Jesus who was them. Notice that Jesus doesn't eat at all. He was keeping the Sabbath as proscribed by Law. They were eating based on His righteousness, His holiness. They were enjoying the Sabbath rest Jesus provided not because they were not sinners but because He was not. All of those passages where sinful Job, sinful David, or a sinful prophet asserts that they are righteous, holy, and innocent, even though we know they are not, they do so based on Jesus' merits not their own. We can do the same.
This is the difference between the 2 groups in the grainfield that day. This is the difference between us in Christ and those outside of Him. Outside of Christ, outside of His righteousness, people are doomed to proving there own righteousness. They can only feel good about themselves, feel joyful if they are toeing the line that the Law sets down. Only when they are innocent and pure in thought, word and deed can they feel good and joyful. But you can never feel that way under the Law unless you tone it down to your standard. God's Law always accuses. But in Christ it is another story. There is no sin in Jesus because He has fulfilled the Law.
Ask yourselves, "What is the purpose of the Law according to Paul in Galatians 3?" It is a teacher to bring us to Christ. Once the Law has done that, showed us our sins, showed us that we can never be good enough or holy enough based on what we do, think, or say, then it is finished with us. The Law leads us by the nose until we can see that we are never going to be right with God based on what we do. We can only be right with God based on what Jesus did; He kept the Law for us and died for our not keeping it. We can't be right with God by doing but only by believing what Jesus did for us. Paul says it better: "The Law has become our teacher to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a teacher."
The Law has done it's work with the disciples. In the grainfield who are they with? Christ. They are no longer under the teacher, the Law because they have been brought to Christ.. It can't rule their consciences saying, "Do this; don't do that." Paul says in Romans 10:4, "Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes." That's why Paul can say in Romans 8:1, "There is no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus." The disciples did not have to enter the grainfield with their many sinful weaknesses and failings fresh in their minds. They could act as if they had no sins, no condemnation. They could eat just like David did as if this grain was meant for them even though it was only meant for the holy and sinless.
Why? Because they were with Christ. Christ is the true Sabbath Rest of God. What does He say in Matthew 11:28, "Come unto Me all you are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest; That is I'll give you the Sabbath." The disciples believed that and so walked through the grainfield with Christ as if the Law was not hanging over their heads. All those in Christ can walk that way.
But what about Paul's admonition not to " turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh?" Since we are sinners, we must be reminded that being free FROM sin in Christ does not mean we are free TO sin. But don't think that this means we're to keep ourselves under the Law. No, the Law is only to be our teacher till we are brought to Christ. If we go back under the Law with all of it's do's and don't's, we will only increase our sins as Paul says. Law is no power against sin, only Christ is. The more we focus on just how free FROM sin Christ has made us; the more we will flee from sin. In Christ, free from sins and free from the law's accusing we have the promise that our sinfulness won't overcome us; it won't carry us away on Judgment Day. Under the Law we have no hope of being saved or free from sin ever, so there is no struggling against the flesh. It is only people who are certain of victory who fight on. People without hope give up. We are not a people without hope. We are a people in Christ. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost II (6-25-00) Mark 2:23-28