The Disciples Pick Corn on the Sabbath,
Engraved by Gustave Doré (1832-1883),
Engraving on paper,
Executed in 1866-70
© Private Collection, London
The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath
One sabbath day, Jesus happened to be taking a walk through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick ears of corn as they went along. And the Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing something on the sabbath day that is forbidden?’ And he replied, ‘Did you never read what David did in his time of need when he and his followers were hungry – how he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the loaves of offering which only the priests are allowed to eat, and how he also gave some to the men with him?’
And he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath; the Son of Man is master even of the sabbath.’
Reflection on the Engraving
The engraving shown today, is from La Grande Bible de Tours, a series of 241 wood engravings designed by the French artist, Gustave Doré (1832–1883) for a new deluxe edition of the bible which he issued in 1866. The illustrations were immensely successful and have been reproduced countless times worldwide, influencing the visual arts and popular culture in many ways. It is still a sumptuous book that everyone, from those interested in Scripture to lovers of great art, should consult from time to time, as it is so rich in vivid depictions of the main scenes in the Old and New Testament. Doré did not just rehash what artists in previous centuries had done, but he gave an entirely new and fresh visual interpretation of the Bible.
In the Gospel reading of today we hear about the Pharisees getting upset about what Jesus’ disciples were doing on the Sabbath day. The disciples had been picking ears of corn on the fields. The Pharisees were not accusing the disciples of stealing, but rather of not observing the Sabbath day. Observing the Sabbath was extremely important to the Jews, and it was especially important to the Pharisees, who prided themselves on keeping the law right down to the last detail. By being hard on other people, the Pharisees stressed their own importance in society. No reaping was allowed on the Sabbath. Even though the Pharisees were challenging Jesus, He doesn’t respond directly to their accusations. Instead, He calmly responds that ‘the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath’. He explains that God in his goodness set aside one day a week for us to worship Him, thank Him and rest.
What it all boils down to is: it is always lawful to do good! The law is a means to an end, but not the end in itself. Whilst he law is there to give guidance and set boundaries, it is there mainly to facilitate and protect we can love our neighbours, do good and be generous. To do good exceeds just observing the law. Jesus makes the point that the law is not meant to create technicalities and roadblocks that prevent you from loving your neighbour and do good…
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Readings related to Mark 2:23-28
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