1. Don’t Break the Sabbath
Once upon a time there were people who took the ten commandments really seriously. So seriously, in fact, they not only didn’t want people to disobey these laws, they didn’t want them to get close to breaking these laws. So they created laws which made the laws bigger. And they created laws around those so they wouldn’t break those laws, just in case. They called this process “placing a fence around the Torah.” And in their nation, everyone had to obey the ten and the laws around the ten and the laws around them or they would be rejected from society.
So they made laws for people not working on the Sabbath. They defined what work was. And they defined what a “long walk” was. And they defined what a person could and could not do on the Sabbath.
It was serious because if, for instance, everyone obeyed the restriction of not working on the Sabbath, for instance, the final days would happen and their nation would rule the world. So the leaders insisted that everyone would do this. Without exception.
And so they correct Jesus. Get on his case because his disciples aren’t being lawful. And to be “unlawful” or “lawless” is akin to being godless or immoral.
|Looks like David is getting away with something…|
2. Who’s Not Reading the Bible? Jesus heard their question and decided to answer it honestly and fully. By telling a story about David. A story that didn’t have anything to do with the Sabbath. Or harvesting.
Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?”
Jesus begins by asking them, “Don’t you ever read your Bibles?” Of course, he knew that they did. Frankly, that was almost all they did. Read and study their bibles. They had most of the Torah memorized and knew it inside and out. But he decided that they didn’t know it well enough, so he recited a story to them.
The story is found in 1 Samuel 21. David is the shepherd turned warrior for God and the current king, Saul, is frightened that David is trying to take over the kingdom, so he chases David with his armies to kill him. David and his men become homeless because of this persecution and are on the run. They happen to stop by the high priests and the ark of the covenant and the high priest, *Ahimalech meets David. (*Side note: Jesus says the priest was Abiathar. Samuel says the priest was Ahimalech, Abiathar’s father. Interesting. I wonder if Jesus got this wrong on purpose to piss the Pharisees off?)
So David comes up and says, “We’re hungry. Do you have any bread?” Ahimalech says, “No, I’m sorry. We’ve got no bread. Well, except for the bread which the law says I can’t give you.” And it was probably for this very situation that the law was established.
“Every sabbath day he shall set it (the bread) in order before the LORD continually; it is an everlasting covenant for the sons of Israel. 9“It shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place; for it is most holy to him from the LORD’S offerings by fire, his portion forever.” Leviticus 24:8-9
Frankly, being a priest isn’t a lucrative gig. You have no land, no way to grow food, and you are dependent on people’s generosity, which isn’t always very generous. So you serve God and God allows you to have his food. And if someone asks for your food, you say, “Sorry, I can’t give it to you” so the priests still have something to eat. Makes sense.
But David seems pretty desperate and he told Ahimelech that he was on the king’s business and so Ahimelech allowed him to have the special bread only for priests. Both the priest and David were breaking the law.
And that is Jesus’ point. There are times when the law should be broken. Even the law itself allows the law to be broken. You hear that Paula White? The Bible says that the Bible must be disobeyed. But only in specific circumstances. Like, when people are suffering. When they are desperately hungry, or when people are severely oppressed, then the basic laws don’t apply. Because more important than following the law, Jesus is pointing out, is following mercy. Making sure that people’s needs are met. Mercy is greater than strict adherence to the law. Jesus and David and Ahimelch were on the right side of interpreting the law. Because while the law is supposed to be obeyed, mercy is the greater law. Always.
3. Saving the Bible
So many, many people are using the Bible today, just like in the first century. And they use it for many, many reasons. Some use the Bible to help people. Some use it to teach doctrine. Others use it for their own purposes. Or to force their will on people. Almost always, if someone uses the Bible to say, “Submit,” it’s for their own nefarious purposes. Or simply because they’re right and they want to work against other people’s well-being in order to prove they’re right. Jesus came to save humanity. And in doing this, Jesus came to save the Bible.
Why is this? Because in order to save humanity, humanity has to change. We have to stop following our own imaginings and ideals and instead follow the ideals of God, which is love, mercy and grace. We need to stop being so mathematical and be more relational. We need to work in and for community. Jesus also knows that the primary way that people change is through story. We need to be a part of a story that means more than just us. We need to be part of the answer to a long narrative. The Bible provides that narrative.
And Jesus said that he came to fulfill the Bible. Some thinks that means to obey it or to act out the narrative others said he would act out. But the primary meaning Jesus used when he said that he would “fulfill” the Bible is to finish it, to complete it, to provide the proper ending to it. Or at least, to provide a conclusion to one part, the pivot point on which the narrative turns and goes to a different climax than we thought.
For instance, let’s talk about the original Godfather movie. All of you know that Marlon Brando is the Godfather and he talks like “I’m going to make you a deal you can’t refuse” and the story is about him and how he takes care of his mafia family, right? But we get to the end of The Godfather and we find out that the godfather is not Marlon Brando at all, but Al Pacino. And the next two Godfather movies shows how Al Pacino tries to change the empire his father created. At the point Marlon Brando dies, the whole thrust of the narrative changes to how the mafia must be different than how it was. It must change it’s basic nature.
That’s kind of what Jesus means when he says that he has come to “fulfill” the scripture. He doesn’t want to change the story, but he wants to change the endings of all the stories in the Bible. And then he invites all of us to participate in those stories.
Jesus says, “Don’t be so hard about the law. Don’t be like Moses who arranged to have people stoned because they infringed on the Sabbath. Instead, be like David, be like Ahimelech who is flexible about the law when someone who is hungry is in front of him.” You can chose the story of mercy. The story of love.
We want to participate in the salvation of the Bible. Jesus does a task, and then invites us to participate with him. That’s what following Jesus is all about. Not just knowing his words and following them, but also knowing his life and following it. Jesus saved the Bible through his actions and words. And we want to do the same.
Whenever I teach, I am trying to save the Bible. Why does the Bible need salvation? Because there are so many people who are trying to save the Bible from itself, to change what it says so it doesn’t seem so human. Like people who wouldn’t point out that Jesus may have made an error in speaking of the high priest’s son instead of the one in the story. Like people who would say that Jesus couldn’t have broken the law.
We need to save the Bible from people who use the Bible to harm, to separate and to kill. We need to save the Bible from people who use it to create empire, instead of seeking the kingdom of God. We need to save the Bible from people who want to shame and harm the poor instead of partnering with them. We want to save the Bible from people who want to create outcast people instead of forming community with them.
In this, we need to take Jesus as our teacher. In Matthew 23, we read that we have but one teacher, the Christ. Lots of people can give sermons, lots of people can give the facts of Scripture, many people interpret the Bible and many people can apply it and live it out. But I trust no one to properly interpret the Word of God, to fully flesh it out and make us realize what the Bible is really about—no one except Jesus.
I love the Bible. I love all the puns, all the metaphors, all the intense stories, all the hard words of the prophets and all the wisdom. Sometimes I even love the genealogies. But if I wander my own way through the complexity of 31,000 verses, all I will come up with is my own thoughts. Because the Bible is complicated enough for anyone to make up whatever they want and have enough proof texts to say what they feel.
So I don’t trust myself to guide others through Scripture. I trust Jesus to do that. I trust that what Jesus did and taught in the gospels and the other stories we have about him is enough to train us, to help us be part of the fulfillment of the Bible. Jesus is the savior of the Bible and we will follow him to save the Bible from those who will use this book to harm.