Some of the Pharisees in today’s Gospel accuse Jesus’ disciples of doing something that is “unlawful,” that is doing the “work” of “picking the heads of grain.” The Torah, the Law, teaches that no work should be done on the Sabbath Day thus remembering to keep holy the Sabbath.
The Pharisees were a Jewish lay-reform movement. Most Pharisees were neither legalist nor hypocrites. They were zealous for the things of God. Jewish religious zeal as Christian religious zeal can at times led a fanaticism that is quick to judge and condemn as we see in today’s Gospel: “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?”
Jesus tries to teach us that all religious customs, rules, and even Laws must always be interpreted through the twofold commandment of love of God and neighbor; that is through mercy and compassion: “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry?”
So as people who are zealous for the things of God, like the Pharisees, we also need to be careful not to be so quick to judge and condemn. As Jesus teaches us: “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged…Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?…You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:1, 3, 5).
So, the first question we should ask is not, “Is it lawful?” but “Is it loving?”