Luke 6.1-5 – Legalism
Posted: 24 January 2011 in Luke

And it came to pass on the second sabbath after the first, that he went through the corn fields; and his disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat, rubbing them in their hands. And certain of the Pharisees said unto them, Why do ye that which is not lawful to do on the sabbath days? And Jesus answering them said, Have ye not read so much as this, what David did, when himself was an hungred, and they which were with him; How he went into the house of God, and did take and eat the shewbread, and gave also to them that were with him; which it is not lawful to eat but for the priests alone? And he said unto them, That the Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath.

The Pharisees problem was that they wanted to obey God’s commandments, not through a sense of duty or love towards their Creator, but as a way of winning brownie points with God (and at the same time with their contemporaries). Such an approach to the commandments leads straight into a narrow legalism. The idea gains hold that, the more minutely the letter of the law is observed, the greater will be the number of brownie points gained.

Jesus would have been the last person on the face of the Earth to say that God’s commandments were unimportant, but, as far as he was concerned, they were to be obeyed in spirit, and not in letter. The sabbath law does not mean that people cannot attend to their physiological needs on the sabbath, and still less does it mean that acts of mercy are ruled out on the sabbath (as with the healing which follows in Luke’s Gospel).

Even worse than his attitude to the law, from the Pharisees point of view, was the greater humanity thereby revealed in Jesus. Compared with the Pharisees’ legalism, people found Jesus attractive, and so his authority grew, until he became a threat to the establishment.

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