The latest in a series of posts based on messages in Luke that we are currently preaching at the Ebenezer Regular Baptist Church.
Luke, the historian with an agenda of communicating the truths of the Kingdom to his fellow Gentiles, has put together a group of incidents from the life of Christ that have as their unifying factor confrontation with the Pharisees. In past posts we have looked at this interaction with them as he healed a paralytic, as he answered questions on fasting, and as he told a parable about old and new wine skins.
On these previous occasions, the Pharisees had tried to catch Jesus in some failing…and had failed. So now they turn on his disciples, who got a little hungry and had decided to grab a bite to eat.
On a Sabbath, He passed through the grainfields. His disciples were picking heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
“Ha! See there, Jesus! Your disciples are clearly violating the sabbath by…eating!”
If this conversation had been happening via SMS or WhatsApp, I can fully imagine Jesus’ next text being the “eyeroll emoji”, followed by “srsly?” As it was, he schooled them…hard.
Jesus answered them, “Haven’t you read what David and those who were with him did when he was hungry—how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the sacred bread, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat? He even gave some to those who were with him.”
Now, at first glance, this is nothing more than a “sick burn”, exposing once again the hypocrisy of the Pharisees for condemning something in Jesus that they would never condemn in one of their Old Testament heroes, King David.
But we do well to take a closer look at the incident Christ is referring to here. The reference comes from I Samuel 21:1-9. The context is David and his rag-tag band of misfits and outlaws, fleeing from the wrath of a jealous King Saul.
David went to Ahimelech the priest at Nob. Ahimelech was afraid to meet David, so he said to him, “Why are you alone and no one is with you?”
David answered Ahimelech the priest, “The king gave me a mission, but he told me, ‘Don’t let anyone know anything about the mission I’m sending you on or what I have ordered you to do.’ I have stationed my young men at a certain place. Now what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread or whatever can be found.”
Keep in mind here David is feeding him a line. He was on a mission from King Saul the same way Robert E. Lee was on a mission from Abraham Lincoln. This will be important a little later.
The priest told him, “There is no ordinary bread on hand. However, there is consecrated bread, but the young men may eat it only if they have kept themselves from women.”
Now, let’s pause a moment and take a closer look at this “consecrated bread”. This is most assuredly what is called the “shew bread”, or “bread of the presence”. It consisted of twelve loaves that were put placed in the tabernacle each sabbath…and remained there, uneaten. At the end of the week, the priests would take them and eat them themselves. Under no circumstances were the people to eat that bread.
In middle eastern culture, “breaking bread” with someone carries strong connotations of communion and friendship. Thus, the symbolism of this particular ritual is unmistakable – God set out the bread, but nobody was worthy to eat it. Fellowship with God was broken, and there was no one who could restore it.
Then, one sunshiny day, up waltzed David, and asked for the bread. The priest’s response is curious…he wants to know about the consecration of the men who are with David.
“I swear that women are being kept from us, as always when I go out to battle. The young men’s bodies are consecrated even on an ordinary mission, so of course their bodies are consecrated today.”
Now we have no way of knowing if this was actually true, or if David was feeding the priest the same kind of malarkey as he did at the beginning of the conversation. I tend to think it’s the latter. What we do know is this: on David’s word, the priest gave him the bread.
So the priest gave him the consecrated bread, for there was no bread there except the bread of the Presence that had been removed from the presence of the Lord. When the bread was removed, it had been replaced with warm bread.
And all of this is important, because of this line that Jesus is careful to include in his response to the Pharisees:
He even gave some to those who were with him.
So let’s try to pull everything together here. Remember that the Pharisees have attacked Jesus’ disciples, those who are “with Him”. In the example Jesus uses, he emphasizes the point that David passed the bread on to those who were with him. And not just any bread, but the bread of the communion, or presence, that could only be eaten by those who had been purified. How did the priest know those men had been purified? He didn’t. He passed the bread on at David’s word.
And suddenly we realized that Jesus is not just talking about his disciples helping themselves to some grain on the sabbath. No, he is talking about something far greater. Just as David made it possible for his men to eat the bread that signified fellowship with God, Jesus – the Lord of the Sabbath – has made it possible for those who are with him to have actual fellowship with God.
And the Pharisees would have been savvy enough to know that Jesus was essentially leaving them out of the Kingdom – putting them in the category of King Saul, as it were. And as we read this passage today, we must ask ourselves, seriously, on which side of the divide we find ourselves. Are we among the people “who are with” Christ, who have had their fellowship with God restored? Or are we among those outside the fellowship, looking in?
Banner image: David receiving Goliath’s sword. Painting by Dutch painter Aert de Gelder