These two passages of story we had both in Matthew and Mark, and they were there laid together (Matt. 12:1; Mark 2:23; 3:1), because, though happening at some distance of time from each other, both were designed to rectify the mistakes of the scribes and Pharisees concerning the sabbath day, on the bodily rest of which they laid greater stress and required greater strictness than the Law-giver intended. Here,
I. Christ justifies his disciples in a work of necessity for themselves on that day, and that was plucking the ears of corn, when they were hungry on that day. This story here has a date, which we had not in the other evangelists; it was on the second sabbath after the first (Luke 6:1), that is, as Dr. Whitby thinks is pretty clear, the first sabbath after the second day of unleavened bread, from which day they reckoned the seven weeks to the feast of pentecost; the first of which they called Sabbaton deuteroproton, the second deuterodeuteron, and so on. Blessed be God we need not be critical in this matter. Whether this circumstance be mentioned to intimate that this sabbath was thought to have some peculiar honour upon it, which aggravated the offence of the disciples, or only to intimate that, being the first sabbath after the offering of the first fruits, it was the time of the year when the corn was nearly ripe, is not material. We may observe, 1. Christ’s disciples ought not to be nice and curious in their diet, at any time, especially on sabbath days, but take up with what is easiest got, and be thankful. These disciples plucked the ears of corn, and did eat (Luke 6:1); a little served them, and that which had no delicacy in it. 2. Many that are themselves guilty of the greatest crimes are forward to censure others for the most innocent and inoffensive actions, Luke 6:2. The Pharisees quarrelled with them as doing that which it was not lawful to do on the sabbath days, when it was their own practice to feed deliciously on sabbath days, more than on all other days. 3. Jesus Christ will justify his disciples when they are unjustly censured, and will own and accept of them in many a thing which men tell them it is not lawful for them to do. How well is it for us that men are not to be our judges, and that Christ will be our Advocate! 4. Ceremonial appointments may be dispensed with, in cases of necessity; as the appropriating of the showbread to the priests was dispensed with, when David was by Providence brought into such a strait that he must have either that or none, Luke 6:3, 4. And, if God’s own appointments might be thus set aside for a greater good, much more may the traditions of men. 5. Works of necessity are particularly allowable on the sabbath day; but we must take heed that we turn not this liberty into licentiousness, and abuse God’s favourable concessions and condescensions to the prejudice of the work of the day. 6. Jesus Christ, though he allowed works of necessity on the sabbath day, will notwithstanding have us to know and remember that it is his day, and therefore is to be spent in his service and to his honour (Luke 6:5): The Son of man is Lord also of the sabbath. In the kingdom of the Redeemer, the sabbath day is to be turned into a Lord’s day; the property of it is, in some respects, to be altered, and it is to be observed chiefly in honour of the Redeemer, as it had been before in honour of the Creator, Jer. 16:14, 15. In token of this, it shall not only have a new name, the Lord’s day (yet not forgetting the old, for it is a sabbath of rest still) but shall be transferred to a new day, the first day of the week.
II. He justifies himself in doing works of mercy for others on the sabbath day. Observe in this, 1. Christ on the sabbath day entered into the synagogue. Note, It is our duty, as we have opportunity, to sanctify sabbaths in religious assemblies. On the sabbath there ought to be a holy convocation; and our place must not be empty without very good reason. 2. In the synagogue, on the sabbath day, he taught. Giving and receiving instruction from Christ is very proper work for a sabbath day, and for a synagogue. Christ took all opportunities to teach, not only his disciples, but the multitude. 3. Christ’s patient was one of his hearers. A man whose right hand was withered came to learn from Christ. Whether he had any expectation to be healed by him does not appear. But those that would be cured by the grace of Christ must be willing to learn the doctrine of Christ. 4. Among those who were the hearers of Christ’s excellent doctrine, and the eye-witnesses of his glorious miracles, there were some who came with no other design than to pick quarrels with him, Luke 6:7. The scribes and Pharisees would not, as became generous adversaries, give him fair warning that, if he did heal on the sabbath day, they would construe it into a violation of the fourth commandment, which they ought in honour and justice to have done, because it was a case without precedent (none having ever cured as he did), but they basely watched him, as the lion does his prey, whether he would heal on the sabbath day, that they might find an accusation against him, and surprise him with a prosecution. 5. Jesus Christ was neither ashamed nor afraid to own the purposes of his grace, in the face of those who, he knew, confronted them, Luke 6:8. He knew their faults, and what they designed, and he bade the man rise, and stand forth, hereby to try the patient’s faith and boldness. 6. He appealed to his adversaries themselves, and to the convictions of natural conscience, whether it was the design of the fourth commandment to restrain men from doing good on the sabbath day, that good which their hand finds to do, which they have an opportunity for, and which cannot so well be put off to another time (Luke 6:9): Isa. it lawful to do good, or evil, on the sabbath days? No wicked men are such absurd and unreasonable men as persecutors are, who study to do evil to men for doing good. 7. He healed the poor man, and restored him to the present use of his right hand, with a word’s speaking, though he knew that his enemies would not only take offence at it, but take advantage against him for it, Luke 6:10. Let not us be drawn off, either from our duty or usefulness, by the oppression we meet with in it. 8. His adversaries were hereby enraged so much the more against him, Luke 6:11. Instead of being convinced by this miracle, as they ought to have been, that he was a teacher come from God,—instead of being brought to be in love with him as a benefactor to mankind,—they were filled with madness, vexed that they could not frighten him from doing good, or hinder the growth of his interest in the affections of the people. They were mad at Christ, mad at the people, mad at themselves. Anger is a short madness, malice is a long one; impotent malice, especially disappointed malice; such was theirs. When they could not prevent his working this miracle, they communed one with another what they might do to Jesus, what other way they might take to run him down. We may well stand amazed at it that the sons of men should be so wicked as to do thus, and that the Son of God should be so patient as to suffer it.