I always visualized that scene as just a few men out for a walk somewhere, ambling along minding their own business and passing by a farm. But that’s probably not how it was.
I just looked at that passage more closely in context and a different picture began to develop in my mind’s eye.
Everywhere Jesus went, crowds went. Multitudes went. He had spent a considerable amount of time doing miracles in those crowds, then addressing those people, then more time personally instructing his twelve closest disciples, then more time upbraiding some of the towns he had visited in northern Galilee.
He called them by name – Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum – and criticized them for not believing in him. I’m sure in that crowd of listeners were citizens of those very towns. Still, the crowds followed on.
In those crowds were also Pharisees, religious teachers listening to every word he said. Watching every move he made.
Now out here in the grain field, trudging along with the crowd, they spied the disciples picking heads of grain and eating them. Aha! The Pharisees pounced.
They complained to Jesus, criticizing the actions – not of Jesus – he wasn’t picking grain and eating it. But his disciples were, and they were an easy target. It was all Jesus’ fault, he should have stopped them! (Of course, Jesus could have just created a few loaves and fishes for lunch, but I have a feeling he knew full well the Pharisees were trailing behind. He had something to say to them. Time to stir the pot a little.)
It seems it was the sabbath day, and work is forbidden on the sabbath. Picking grain is work. Unlawful. Jesus, taking responsibility for his disciples’ behavior, calmly pointed out the scriptures.
And summing up, he pointed out something else, too. “The Son of Man is Lord, even of the sabbath day.”
I think this is what he wanted them to hear, to really, really hear. Son of Man: me. By this statement Jesus was clearly claiming to be the Messiah.
Of course, son of man was a common phrase, it could be construed to mean just a human man. But saying it to the Pharisees in this context was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. Designed to enrage.
Leading them all on from there, Jesus and the twelve went into town, into THEIR synagogue. Whose synagogue? The Pharisees. Inside was a man with a paralyzed hand, no doubt a regular attender and known to the Pharisees.
They saw Jesus looking at that man and his paralyzed hand, I’m sure. By now they knew Jesus didn’t like to leave sick people sick.
So once again they tried again to trip him up. It was still the sabbath, after all. Is it legal to heal on the sabbath, they asked him? Not that they ever could heal anyone, sabbath or not. If they could, that man would have been healed long ago.
Using good common sense and practical everyday logic, Jesus answered, “It is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” Jesus didn’t touch the crippled man. He didn’t anoint him with oil, he didn’t say “Be healed.” He just told him to do something he couldn’t do, stretch out your hand. He did, and as he did his hand became normal. Wonderful!
Well, that did it. The Pharisees couldn’t have someone showing them up like this, right here in their own synagogue. They went out and held a council against Jesus, to figure out the best way to destroy him.
Of course Jesus knew it. He always knew what they were thinking, what they were plotting. He simply went elsewhere with the disciples. Of course the multitudes went along too, and Jesus continued doing what he did. Healing the sick. All of the sick.
I have an odd question. What were the Pharisees supposed to be doing on the sabbath? Whatever it was, they certainly weren’t doing it, they were trailing Jesus like religious paparazzi.
And all the time not even seeing the signs and wonders, not seeing the miracles, not seeing the multitudes of sick and afflicted being healed. Not seeing the kingdom coming in their midst.