“The Son of Man Is Lord Even of the Sabbath Day”

Matthew 12:1–8

1 At that time Jesus went on the sabbath day through the corn; and his disciples were an hungred, and began to pluck the ears of corn, and to eat.2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto him, Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.3 But he said unto them, Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him;4 How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?5 Or have ye not read in the law, how that on the sabbath days the priests in the temple profane the sabbath, and are blameless?6 But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.7 But if ye had known what this meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice, ye would not have condemned the guiltless.8 For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.

Elder James E. Talmage wrote:

“On a certain Sabbath, [Jesus] and the disciples walked through a field of grain [see Matthew 12:1–8; Mark 2:23–28; Luke 6:1–5], and, being hungry, the disciples began to pluck some of the ripening ears; rubbing out the kernels between their hands, they ate. There was no element of theft in what they did, for the Mosaic law provided that in passing through another’s vineyard or corn field one might pluck grapes or corn to relieve hunger; but it was forbidden to use a sickle in the field, or to carry away any of the grapes in a vessel [see Deuteronomy 23:24–25]. The permission extended only to the relief of present need. When the disciples of Jesus availed themselves of this lawful privilege, there were Pharisees on the watch, and these came at once to the Master, saying: ‘Behold, thy disciples do that which is not lawful to do upon the sabbath day.’ The accusers doubtless had in mind the rabbinical dictum that rubbing out an ear of grain in the hands was a species of threshing; that blowing away the chaff was winnowing; and that it was unlawful to thresh or winnow on the Sabbath. Indeed, some learned rabbis had held it to be a sin to walk on grass during the Sabbath, inasmuch as the grass might be in seed, and the treading out of the seed would be as the threshing of grain.

“Jesus defended the disciples by citing a precedent applicable to the case, and of much greater import. The instance was that of David, who with a small company of men had asked bread of the priest Ahimelech; for they were hungry and in haste. The priest had none but consecrated bread, the loaves of shewbread which were placed in the sanctuary at intervals, and which none but the priests were allowed to eat. In view of the condition of urgent need the priest had given the shewbread to the hungry men [see Exodus 25:30; Leviticus 24:5–9; 1 Samuel 21:1–6]. Jesus also reminded the critical Pharisees that the priests in the temple regularly did much work on the Sabbath in the slaughtering of sacrificial victims and in altar service generally, yet were held blameless because of the higher requirements of worship which rendered such labor necessary; and added with solemn emphasis: ‘But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.’ He cited the word of God spoken through Hosea, ‘I will have mercy, and not sacrifice’ [Hosea 6:6; compare Micah 6:6–9], and reproved at once their ignorance and their unrighteous zeal by telling them that had they known what that scripture meant they would not have condemned the guiltless. Be it remembered, ‘The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath’ [Mark 2:27].

“His reproof was followed by the affirmation of His personal supremacy: ‘For the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath day.’ What can we gather from the declaration but that He, Jesus, there present in the flesh, was the Being through whom the Sabbath had been ordained, that it was He who had given and written in stone the decalog, including ‘Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy,’ and, ‘the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God’?”

(Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 212–14.)