Luke 6:[1] On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. [2] But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” [3] And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: [4] how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” [5] And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”

When Jesus was accused of breaking the Sabbath those who accused Him were wrong. Jesus did not break the Sabbath. But Jesus did not argue that. He let them think He had, and argued the point that sometimes it was lawful to do so. Stunning.

His point in this instance is that people are more important than the rigid requirements of the Law. The example He gives is that of David eating the shew bread in the Tabernacle when he was hungry. This was not permitted, but it seems that what Jesus is saying here is that this aspect of the Law was never meant to be held to the point that God would deny human need. There are times, rare as they may be, when the law gets in the way of doing a greater good. When that happens, then the law must bow to that greater good.

Evil hearts will use this to justify all kinds of sin. The young virile man could argue that his need for sex justified his sexual activity. The thief could argue, as Solomon himself seems to do, that poverty forced him to steal (Proverbs 30:8). Many Christians, almost on a daily basis, reason that they are the exception to the general rule and that they are justified in their lying to keep out of trouble, fudging the figures on their income tax forms because their taxes are too high, rudeness because that is all people in our culture seem to respond to. The list is endless.

Can we argue for such things on the basis that Jesus said David did a good thing in eating the bread reserved for priests? Not at all. People who look for loopholes in the rules have no intention of obeying them anytime. Jesus is arguing for a principle that helps the needy, not justifies the guilty. It is also probably significant that the law Jesus is accused of breaking is the Sabbath, and the law he quotes David breaking is ceremonial.

Having said all that, we should not lose sight of what Jesus says. The Law was not a hammer to beat people. It was a rule to help people. It was for their good. There were rare occasions when it was right to step outside of it. But they remained rare. The Pharisees, of course, never recognized such a thing. If they had been running things they would have let David starve to death rather than allow him to eat. David’s priest let him eat and there is not a hint in the OT account that anything wrong had been committed. Jesus backs the Pharisees into a corner and they know it. They have no choice but to let Him go on His way. To condemn him would be to condemn David and the priest who let him eat.

At the very least this account tells us to be a thinking people. We must not use the Bible to beat people to death, nor must we run willy nilly into disobedience. Knowing what is the right thing to do in some situations takes a wrestling with the Scriptures that far too many believers are not willing to exercise. Before we make these difficult decisions we need to know our Bibles. We need to be in close relationship with God and we need to be obedient. This account from the life of Christ is a wonderful encouragement to become better students of the Scriptures and diligent searchers after the very mind of God. What a privilege it is to pursue such things.