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§ 172. The Pharisees attack the Disciples for plucking Corn on the Sabbath.—Christ defends them. (Luke, vi., 1; Matt., xii., 18.)

During the first or second year of Christ’s labours in Galilee, he walked, on the first Sabbath after the Passover,454454   Σάββατον δευτερόπρωτον, Luke, vi., 1. Meaning, if the reading be correct, the first Sabbath after the second Easter-day, when the first sheaf of corn was presented in the Temple. through a corn-field with his disciples. The corn was ripe; and the disciples, urged by hunger, plucked a few ears, rubbed them in their hands,455455   A customary way of appeasing hunger in those lands, even to this day; cf. Robinson, Palestine, ii.. 419 and 430. and ate them. Some of the Pharisees (always on the alert) reproached them for doing such a thing on the Sabbath day. As the charge was, in fact, meant for Christ himself, he replied to and refuted it; and, not content with bare refutation, he intimated a higher truth, which could not be brought out clearly and fully until a later period.

First, he showed to the Pharisees, on their own ground, the falsity of their slavish adherence to the letter of the law. David, he told them, violated their principle in satisfying his hunger with the sacred bread, when no other could be had.1 Sam., xxi. The Mosaic law itself opposed it, inasmuch as the priests were necessarily compelled, in the Temple-service, to infringe upon the Sabbath rest; clearly showing that not all labour was inconsistent with that rest, so that the true aim of the law was kept in view. But (he proceeded, intimating the higher truth) if a deviation from the letter of the law was justifiable in the priests, because engaged in the Temple-service, how much more in men who were engaged in the service of that which was greater than the Temple, the highest manifestation that had been made to mankind.456456   Cf. p. 89.

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Having thus vindicated the disciples, he opposed Hosea, vi., 6, to that idea of religion which rests in outward forms and lacks the inward life; which, in this as in other cases, was the root of error from which the conduct of the Pharisees proceeded. Had they known that lore is greater than all ceremonial service, they would not have been so forward to condemn the innocent.457457   The γάρ in Matt., xii., 8, may refer either to v. 7 or v. 6; in either case it has a connexion of thought with v. 6. For innocent the disciples were, who had acted as they did for the sake of the Son of Man, who is greater than the Sabbath, and who, as Lord over all things, is Lord also458458   The καὶ, in Luke, vi., 5, agrees well with this. of the Sabbath.459459   Mark, ii., 27, joins well to this. The “man” of v. 27, refers to “Son of Man” in v. 28; a reference that cannot be conceived as the work of a later hand. The Sabbath was only a means of religious developement up to a certain period. That period had arrived in the manifestation of the Son of Man, the aim of all preparatory things, in whom the original dignity of man was restored, the ideal of humanity realized, and the interior life of man made independent of time and place.460460   I consider myself justified in finding all this in the passage, by taking the words in their full meaning, and comparing them with other expressions of Christ’s.


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