A popular reading of Jesus’ disregard for the laws governing Sabbath casts Jesus in the role of the rebellious visionary who wants nothing to do with the prig-ish piety of his religious contemporaries. At some level, this is probably true. However, what Jesus is doing in his non-Sabbath observance is something much deeper and more significant than trying to stick it to “the man.”
Sabbath is a sacred period of rest set aside at the end of the Jewish week so that one might be reminded of their dependance on God and that human beings are mortal and finite. Sabbath is meant to remind us that there is more to life than work and the common events that make up our everyday lives. It is meant to point to a Reality that is greater than ourselves.
But when the Reality shows up, it is the dawn of a new day and everything is seen in a new light. That to which the pointer points isn’t necessary when the pointed to thing (person) is standing right in front of you. In Jesus, we see the “Sabbath” face to face.
It is in this spirit we are to read, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Or as in other places, “The Sabbath was made for the man, and not man for the Sabbath.” This isn’t meant to taken as some sort of anthropocentric – mankind is the center of the universe – sort of teaching. It is meant to highlight that Sabbath has a purpose, and when that purpose is fulfilled then Sabbath observance takes on a secondary significance. In much the same way that one doesn’t spend all their time looking at a shadow when they can be looking at the object casting the shadow in the first place.
It is this idea of fulfillment that permeates the rest of the chapter as well. The story that immediately follows of Jesus selecting twelve disciples functions in a similar way. Jesus decision to select twelve disciples is hardly arbitrary. Twelve people. Not eleven. Not thirteen. Twelve.
In a similar way that there were twelve tribes of Israel, Jesus’ selecting the Twelve is a not so subtly way of symbolically redefining Israel in and around himself. He establishes an alternative Israel. Or perhaps more in line with what we’ve been saying all along, in Jesus we find the true Israel or the fulfillment of all that Israel was to be and do.