Now it happened, as He went into the house of one of the rulers of the Pharisees to eat bread on the Sabbath, …
Eating bread on the Sabbath was (is) an essential element of the Jewish Sabbath day observation. It invoked the eating of bread in the wilderness, which, we recall, was the manna saved up on Friday, as the Lord instructed. As such, it was a reminder of the Lord’s providence. Also it was a reminder that the Lord gives us the rest – because it could be stored up on Friday, no work needed to be done on Saturday.
This prayer is said with the bread, “Blessed are you LORD our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” It’s a good ritual and reminder of the rest we have in the Lord, even in a fallen world. One day a week we are given to rest and enjoy the fruits of our labors, which are truly how the Lord provides for us. After creating the earth in six days, the Lord guaranteed the continuation of the creation with all its fruits. How? Through the seed. The Lord feeds the birds through their beaks and talons; He feeds man through his mind and mastery of creation, his ability to work the ground with seeds and cause food to be brought forth.
And one day a week we get to sit back and rejoice in the fruits of our labor. But still, it’s a fallen world. Still, we die. Still, we fall down pits.
As such, the Sabbath is unfulfilled. In today’s passage, then, we get somewhat of a parallel with John 6. There, Jesus had just finished feeding the five thousand, and the people recognized in Jesus a Moses-like character who like Moses could feed them. Was this the “prophet like Moses”?
Jesus begins there, but takes things to the next level. Again, He’s new wine not able to be contained by old wineskins. Also true in this week’s Gospel. Jesus begins with the Law, with the observance of the Sabbath, but He takes things to a higher level, as we will see.
But let’s pause and consider that Jesus, in fact, did “go into the house to eat bread on the Sabbath.” Jesus was no revolutionary. He didn’t come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. He submitted to the existent forms, the culture of the day.
Also note He evidently had been invited into the house of one of the ruling Pharisees. True, they were trying to test Him. Still, at this point Jesus is among colleagues. He was a rabbi, a teacher, and part of the body of Jewish teachers. The image of Him as some hippy street preacher is simply wrong. As Jesus says to the High Priest, “ I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.”
Note here St. John’s little dig at the Gnostics, as he quotes Jesus saying, “In secret I have said nothing.” It was the Gnostics who believed Jesus had a body of teaching taught secretly to an elite group of apostles.
This is all to say Jesus was not a subversive or a revolutionary. He wasn’t buried away in some secret enclave passing on esoteric teachings to an elite body of believers. He was a man of the Law, of the Old Testament, come to His people. He was out in the open, teaching publicly, debating with the teachers of the day, among whom He was one.
But Jesus took this tradition to another level, a level we see pan out in the Gospel. Whatever Sabbath the Jews thought they had, Jesus makes it something more, something greater. And whatever the Jews thought about the bread they ate and shared, Jesus was going to make it something more, something greater.
He is the Sabbath; He is the bread; He is the ruling Teacher. And if you’re the man with dropsy, isn’t his exactly what you want and need?