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Chapter 12

Picking Grain on the Sabbath. [a]At that time Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath.(A) His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads[b] of grain and eat them.(B) When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them,[c] “Have you not read what David(C) did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering,(D) which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat? [d]Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent?(E) I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. [e]If you knew what this meant, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’(F) you would not have condemned these innocent men. [f](G)For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

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  1. 12:1–14 Matthew here returns to the Marcan order that he left in Mt 9:18. The two stories depend on Mk 2:23–28; 3:1–6, respectively, and are the only places in either gospel that deal explicitly with Jesus’ attitude toward sabbath observance.
  2. 12:1–2 The picking of the heads of grain is here equated with reaping, which was forbidden on the sabbath (Ex 34:21).
  3. 12:3–4 See 1 Sm 21:2–7. In the Marcan parallel (Mk 2:25–26) the high priest is called Abiathar, although in 1 Samuel this action is attributed to Ahimelech. The Old Testament story is not about a violation of the sabbath rest; its pertinence to this dispute is that a violation of the law was permissible because of David’s men being without food.
  4. 12:5–6 This and the following argument (Mt 12:7) are peculiar to Matthew. The temple service seems to be the changing of the showbread on the sabbath (Lv 24:8) and the doubling on the sabbath of the usual daily holocausts (Nm 28:9–10). The argument is that the law itself requires work that breaks the sabbath rest, because of the higher duty of temple service. If temple duties outweigh the sabbath law, how much more does the presence of Jesus, with his proclamation of the kingdom (something greater than the temple), justify the conduct of his disciples.
  5. 12:7 See note on Mt 9:13.
  6. 12:8 The ultimate justification for the disciples’ violation of the sabbath rest is that Jesus, the Son of Man, has supreme authority over the law.