While the people of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation. They put him in custody, because it had not been made clear what should be done to him. And the Lord said to Moses, “The man shall be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” And all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him to death with stones, as the Lord commanded Moses.
One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Ya know I’ve always thought that Jesus was hard on the Pharisees because they made rules that overreached the law. They added to it and in Jesus words:
While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without knowing it.”One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. ~Luke 11:37-46
It’s not that I disagree with Jesus words here, maybe the Pharisees were greedy and wicked. Power does breed corruption. But what if it didn’t start out that way? What if they added to the law out of fear? Isn’t that what a lot of our Church by-laws do? No dancing, no drinking, no playing cards, and for heaven’s sake don’t roll any dice! The Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us not to do any of those things, but the fear that a drunkard won’t inherit the Kingdom of God….well…doesn’t it stand to reason we should just avoid alcoholic beverages all together? And the dancing, my goodness, we all know what that leads to! So better off just not imbibing in the temptation, right? You get my point I’m sure.
Here’s the thing that’s been rolling around in my head about the first two passages of scripture: What if the Pharisees/Priests started out adding to the law because they feared stoning? What if the the man who was picking up sticks in the wilderness was their friend? Surely he was their neighbor, and we all know how Jesus feels about our neighbors. Stoning couldn’t have been a choice way to go for the people carrying it out, nor the one being stoned. It’s a pretty brutal act and most certainly not an instant death, but a slow agonizing process.
The sheer fact that “the LORD” commanded the Israelites via Moses to stone a man to death just for picking up a few sticks on the Sabbath would’ve been enough to scare them into stringent and strict enforcement of the law even surpassing it in an effort to keep people from crossing that magic line where punishment was sure to be carried out.
The LORD of the Old Testament was so serious about the Sabbath that what seemed like a small infraction was worthy of death. Yet Jesus comes on the scene and tells them that the Sabbath was made for man and not the other way around. Huh?!? No wonder they were confused. Quite frankly so am I.
We get no more information about the man. Was he an otherwise law abiding citizen of the wilderness? Was he sick the day before so wasn’t able to gather these sticks? What was he gathering the sticks for? Who cares? It didn’t matter to the LORD. What mattered was he was doing it on the Sabbath. And we wonder where legalism comes from?
The stoning of the man gathering sticks seems so savage. Jeez, where’s the “justice and the love”? Is God a savage? Is He abusive? Does this seem like an act of an all-loving God? All I know is I ain’t gatherin’ no sticks on the Sabbath!