Pronouncement about the Sabbath
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck ears of grain. And the Pharisees said 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, when Abi'athar was 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.”
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - The disciples of Christ, freed from the figure, and united to the truth, do not keep the figurative feast of the sabbath.
Wherefore it is said, "And it came to pass, that He went through the corn fields on the sabbath day; and His disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn."
Bede, in Marc., 1, 13 - We read also in the following part, that they who came and went away were many, and that they had not time enough to take their food, wherefore, according to man's nature, they were hungry.
Chrys., see Hom. in Matt., 39 - But being hungry, they ate simple food, not for pleasure, but on account of the necessity of nature. The Pharisees however, serving the figure and the shadow, accused the disciples of doing wrong.
Wherefore there follows, "But the Pharisees said unto Him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful."
Augustine, de Op. Monach., 23 - For it was a precept in Israel, delivered by a written law, that no one should detain a thief found in his fields, unless he tried to take something away with him. For the man who had touched nothing else but what he had eaten they were commanded to allow to go away free and unpunished. Wherefore the Jews accused our Lord's disciples, who were plucking the ears of corn, of breaking the sabbath, rather than of theft.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - But our Lord brings forward David, to whom it once happened to eat though it was forbidden by the law, when he touched the Priest's food, that by his example, He might do away with their accusation of the disciples.
For there follows, "Have ye never read, etc."
Theophylact - For David, when flying from the face of Saul [1 Samuel 21] went to the Chief Priest, and ate the shew-bread, and took away the sword of Goliath, which things had been offered to the Lord. But a question has been raised how the Evangelist called Abiathar at this time High Priest, when the Book of Kings calls him Abimelech.
Bede - There is, however, no discrepancy, for both were there, when David came to ask for bread, and received it: that is to say, Abimelech, the High Priest, and Abiathar his son; but Abimelech having been slain by Saul, Abiathar fled to David, and became the companion of all his exile afterwards. When he came to the throne, he himself also received the rank of High Priest, and the son became of much greater excellence than the father, and therefore was worthy to be mentioned as the High Priest, even during his father's life-time.
It goes on: "And He said to them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath." For greater is the care to be taken of the health and life of a man, than the keeping of the sabbath. Therefore the sabbath was ordered to be observed in such a way, that, if there were a neccesity, he should not be guilty, who broke the sabbath-day; therefore it was not forbidden to circumcise on the sabbath, because that was a necessary work. And the Maccabees, when necessity pressed on them, fought on the sabbath-day.
Wherefore, His disciples being hungry, what was not allowed in the law became lawful through their necessity of hunger; as now, if a sick man break a fast, he is not held guilty in any way. It goes on: "Therefore the Son of man is Lord, etc." As if He said, David the king is to be excused for feeding on the food of the Priests, how much more the Son of man, the true King and Priest, and Lord of the sabbath, is free from fault, for pulling ears of corn on the sabbath-day.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - He calls himself properly, Lord of the sabbath, and Son of man, since being the Son of God, He deigned to be called Son of man, for the sake of men. Now the law has no authority over the Lawgiver and Lord, for more is allowed the king, than is appointed by the law. The law is given to the weak indeed, but not to the perfect and to those who work above what the law enjoins.
Bede - But in a mystical sense the disciples pass through the corn fields, when the holy doctors look with the care of a pious solicitude upon those whom they have initiated in the faith, and who, it is implied, are hungering for the best of all things, the salvation of men.
But to pluck the ears of corn means to snatch men away from the eager desire of earthly things. And to rub with the hands is by example of virtue to put from the purity of their minds the concupiscence of the flesh, as men do husks. To eat the grains is when a man, cleansed from the filth of vice by the mouths of preachers, is incorporated amongst the members of the Church. Again, fitly are the disciples related to have done this, walking before the face of the Lord, for it is necessary that the discourse of the doctor should come first, although the grace of visitation from on high, following it, must enlighten the heart of the hearer. As well, on the sabbath-day, for the doctors themselves in preaching labour for the hope of future rest, and teach their hearers to toil over their tasks for the sake of eternal repose.
Theophylact - Or else, because when they have rest from their passions, then are they made doctors to lead others to virtue, plucking away from them earthly things.
Bede - Again, they walk through the corn fields with the Lord, who rejoice in meditating upon His sacred words. They hunger, when they desire to find in them the bread of life; and they hunger on sabbath days, as soon as their minds are in a soothing rest, and they rejoice in freedom from troubled thoughts; they pluck the ears of corn, and by rubbing, cleanse them, till they come to what is fit to eat, when by meditation they take to themselves the witness of the Scriptures, to which they arrive by reading, and discuss them continually, until they find in them the marrow of love; this refreshment of the mind is truly unpleasing to fools, but is approved by the Lord.
- text taken from by Saint Thomas Aquinas, translated by William Whiston, 1842