One day Jesus was out with his followers, walking through the fields, probably on their way from one spot to another. The issue this day - it was the Sabbath. In the eyes of the religious of the day, the Sabbath had very strict rules one had to follow if one was even remotely close to being called or acknowledged by God. One such rule was that of not "working" on that holy day - so all manner of normal "housework" or "house care" was to have been pre-planned on the day prior to the Sabbath. This meant they prepared enough bread for two days instead of their normal one, laid aside a portion of the meat they had cooked on the day prior to the Sabbath for the partaking on the Sabbath, and ensured enough water was drawn from the well to make it through. It was like work shut down for the day - because the Sabbath was dedicated to the Lord. The only problem with this was that there was also a whole lot of other "rules" added as time went on and the purpose of the Sabbath somehow got "lost in translation". To the Jewish believer of the day, the Sabbath had so many rules attached from how many steps one might be able to walk in that day, to not even being able to pulverize a medicinal herb should the need arise. It was on this day, with this frame of reference, that the Jewish religious leaders point out the followers of Jesus as "non-adherents" to the rules of the Sabbath. They were passing through the fields, hunger setting in, and plucking a few grains of wheat in passing. Shucking the wheat a little in the palms of their hands, they partook of those tiny grains to give them nourishment and stamina for their journey. In so doing, they have "broken the rules" of the Sabbath and are now judged by the religious leaders as "non-adherents" to the Law. It was as though Jesus is being pointed out as one who was leading these people into some type of sin. It was just like Jesus to take their own "rule" and turn it around to show how utterly absurd it was to rely upon the "rule" more than the soul being expected to keep the rule!
The Scriptures say, ‘I don’t want animal sacrifices; I want you to show kindness to people.’ You don’t really know what that means. If you understood it, you would not judge those who have done nothing wrong. (Matthew 12:7 ERV)
Hearing this condemnation of the actions of his followers, Jesus begins to point out how much it mattered that they found nourishment - something they didn't have time to pre-plan for when they set out to follow the one who would lead them into all truth and liberty. Herein is the "rub" - truth was right there being revealed in the person of Christ, walking in those fields, setting at liberty all who would follow, but the religious leaders could only see the "rule-breaking" behavior, not the hungry hearts of those seeking truth. It isn't just like us to focus more on the rule being broken rather than the heart behind the rule-breaking? Jesus counters their judging spirit with a pretty awesome answer when he tells them they really don't know the "intent" of the rule - they are just keeping it without understanding why God gave the rule in the first place. That is sometimes how we go through life - keeping rules without any clue "why" we keep them or "why" the rule was given in the first place. Most of the time, we keep the rule because we feel some "obligation" to keep it - such as when we are quiet in class because it is one of the "classroom rules" for which we can find ourselves in the corner with our nose to the wall if it is violated. Maybe this is the way we view life within "religion" - as a set of rules for which there is no room for violation. We believe penalty awaits those who "violate" the rule.
While there is some truth to this, rules aren't given to penalize or punish the individual - they are given to provide the individual an element of safety or protection when they are kept. Rules place someone under obligation - as though there was always a penalty to not adhering to the rule. If we view rules this way, we see through the eyes of the religious leaders of Jesus' day - judging the behavior of those who don't adhere fully to the rule as "wrong" or "deviants". Jesus' answer to the religious leaders also shows us how much we often "miss" the intent of the rule because we focus on the "action" over the "heart". His answer: "I want you to show kindness to people." In essence, Jesus was saying when we focus on the action of the one in front of us, we often miss their heart need. We see the behavior and don't even stop to consider the hunger driving their heart. These were "hungry" people - not just physically hungry, but emotionally and spiritually hungry. They longed to be in the presence of the one who revealed truth and who actually embodied truth. This even impacted their "planning ahead" so much that they had no meal prepared for the Sabbath. They were willing to "risk" the violation of the rule in order to be in the presence of the one who would give them what their hearts yearned to receive.
In essence, Jesus tells the religious leaders they were the ones "doing wrong" by their judging without knowing the heart of the one behind the "rule violation". It wasn't the one who shucked a few grain in their hands - it was the proud heart of the religious "rule-keepers" he points out as having missed the mark! Do we ever find ourselves peering through these same "mirrored lenses" on occasion - seeing only the goodness of others by how well they keep the rules? If we are honest, we struggle with this type of judgmental attitude on occasion - sometimes more than we might like to admit. The lesson for us today isn't whether the rule is right or wrong - it is that the heart is always to be considered anytime there is a violation of a rule. The rules are provided for a reason - but we might have a good reason for violating the rule, such as when we are rushing a loved one the hospital who is bleeding profusely from a wound they have suffered. The heart matters more than the rule - failing to see more than the rule will always set us up to discount the needs and the actions of the human heart. Jesus made it a priority to consider the heart - we would do well to follow his lead. Just sayin!