Guiltfield or Grainfield
What type of field do you see Jesus and His disciples walking through? A field filled with guilt or a field filled with grain? Do you see the difference between these? Maybe you will if I show you what's at the end of each. At the end of the guiltfield is people concluding the Sabbath Law commanding rest means sheep should be allowed to drown in wells, cattle should be allowed to die of thirst, and good ought not to be done on the Sabbath day. At end of the grainfield is Job saying, "My conscience will not accuse me as long as I live." And David saying, "The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness." And Paul saying, "I do not even judge myself." How can Job who was guilty of accusing the Almighty, David who was guilty of adultery, murder, lying and more, and Paul who was guilty of murdering Christians, speak so guiltlessly? O to live even one day in such a grainfield!
But to get to the grainfield you've got to get through the guiltfield. Picture it. It's a beautiful fall day in October. The fields are golden with grain. It's a Saturday afternoon. The disciples are with Jesus. Gethsemane, betrayal, denials, cross, and tomb are 6 months a way. It's a good time. The disciples pick some of the full heads of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them. What joy! But then the Pharisees pop up saying in horror, shock, and blame, "Look! Look! What they're doing! Why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."
You've been in the grainfields of life and had the Pharisees pop up in your conscience, haven't you? They rise like ghosts, goblins, specters saying, "Law, law, law." "Look! How can you be a Christian and drive even one mile over the speed limit!" "Look! How can you go to that movie or watch that TV show! Don't you know it's immoral and blasphemous?" "Look! Look! Look! See what the letter of the law says." You've been here; heard this; felt it; you've tasted of the guiltfields, haven't you?
If you try to answer the Pharisees of the world according to the letter of the law, you will only bury your conscience deeper in the guiltfields of life. People do this with our text. They say, "You see, what the disciples did wasn't really a violation of the Sabbath Law." "Obviously, the disciples hadn't really sinned here because Jesus would have rebuked them." "Of course the Old Testament permitted eating the grain of a standing field while walking through it. The Pharisees were only accusing the disciples of violating the prohibition against grinding because they rubbed the grain in their hands to shell it. And that really wasn't grinding."
Don't answer the Pharisees in the guiltfields according to the Law. That immediately locks you in the Law, and the Law always accuses says our Lutheran Confessions. For example, if someone asks, "How often must I commune or come to Church to be a Christian," and you start talking numbers; you're never going to get out of that morass without thinking you're justified by doing something a certain number of times. Any question of the Law that's answered by the Law only leads to ever sharper, ever finer points in the letter of the Law till you get to the point of the Sabbath law meaning sheep should drown, cattle should dehydrate, and good ought not to be done.
All this is true enough, but do you know the real reason you had better not answer the Pharisees of the guiltfields of life according to the Law? Because you are guilty...and you know it. Likewise in our text, Jesus knows His disciples are guilty. Our Apology to the Augsburg Confession says, "The apostles violated traditions and Christ excused them." Luther says bluntly, "They violated the Sabbath." Actually, you don't need the Confessions or Luther to see this, you just need the text. If the disciples had not really sinned, then why bring up David who certainly did? The insert tip toes around this but Jesus says literally, "And the bread of the Presence they did eat which is not lawful to eat if not of the priests."
What we see Jesus doing to the Pharisees in the guiltfield is what He did with all law mongers. Jesus always shoved their faces right back into the Law till they choked on it. Remember the lawyer who told Jesus that showing mercy was a tricky question of the law about who your neighbor really was? Jesus buried his face in the impossible neighborliness of the Good Samaritan who paid months of room and board for a total stranger and then left His credit card. Remember the rich young man who wanted to know what to do to be saved? Jesus buried his face in impossible demands to sell all he had, give the money to the poor, and come follow Me. Remember the disciple who wanted to know if forgiving someone 7 times was enough? Jesus buried his face in the 70 X 7 Law.
Here Jesus buries the law mongers in the sin of David. David is worse than the disciples. He got the high priest to give him the bread by lying. Luther gets a very important principle of behavior from how Jesus handles these Pharisees. He says that people who are unyielding, stubborn and insist that the letter of the law justifies must be resisted. "In the presence of such men, it is good to eat meat, break the fasts, and for the sake of the liberty of the faith, do other things which they regard as the greatest of sins."
When in the guiltfield of life and the law mongers stand up saying, "Sin, sin, sin," you will be tempted to say, "No, it's not because of this or that law." If you do, the law mongers have you. Jesus instead says, "Well, if it's sin you wish to talk about, consider David who lied to the high priest to get the bread that it was not lawful for him to eat." And the law mongers choke and spit because they can't swallow this. O they could swallow the mangy disciples of Jesus. There's a sin; there's a sin; and there's another. But what's this? Their precious Law makes David guilty too?
This text, however, is about more than answering law mongers; it's about navigating the guiltfield to get to the grainfield where Job, David, and Paul are joyfully, guiltlessly skipping through life. They could go through life this way for the same reason that Jesus said His disciples could walk through the grainfield eating. The Lord of the Sabbath was with them. Job, though a sinner under the Law, could say his conscience never accused him because Christ was his redeemer. David, though he had sinned unrighteously could say the Lord would reward him according to his righteousness because the Lord was his righteousness. Paul, a killer of Christians, could say he didn't even judge himself because the blood of Jesus had washed over him.
Dear friends, the Pharisees, the self-righteous of the world all say that bondage to the Law is necessary for justification. You must be constantly in tune with what the Law says if you're going to be a Christian and have a clear conscience. You have to have a list of rules in your minds: Do this, don't do that; don't touch, don't taste, don't look by which you score your life. But what does Paul say about all such laws in Colossians 2? They have the appearance of wisdom "but are of no value against fleshy indulgence."
All the laws and rules, all the "have to's," "shoulds," and "oughts" that law mongers wish to enslave Christians with must be rejected. The Augsburg Confession says, "Bondage to the Law is not necessary for justification." What is necessary to be saved is nothing less than the perfect life, suffering and dying of the Son of God. No matter how resolutely you dedicate yourself to keeping the law; no matter how well you think you're doing at keeping the law; no matter how righteous, upright, and Christian you appear to those around you, you will never, ever satisfy the law. It will always accuse you, and if somehow the devil makes you deaf to the accusations of the law now, you will hear them on your deathbed or in a time of crisis. And then that one time you drove a mile over the speed limit will torture you; that one lustful thought you had while watching "I Love Lucy" will roast you; that one time you held the tiniest of grudges will torment you.
You can't get away from the accusations of the Law by trying your best because your best is never good enough. You can't get away from the Law's accusations by your excuses because God recognizes no excuse for breaking His laws. But "Christ," says St. Paul, "is the end of the Law to everyone who believes." Being in Christ, where your Baptism has put you, where the Absolution sends you back to, where Communion puts you in a most special way, is like being in a soundproof room. Christ shields you from hearing the accusations of the law mongers, of the law, of even your own conscience. That's why St. Paul can say to the hostile Corinthians, "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself."
Being in Christ is being in the grainfield. There's nothing but the voice of the Gospel here saying, "What sin? What guilt? All that I know of your sin and guilt is that they were put on Christ and He carried them away from you forever." Being in Christ is the answer to the law mongers in your life: the spouse who subtly tells you nothing is good enough, the parent to whom you've never measured up, the sibling, the friend, the co-worker who delights in finding fault. In the grainfield with Jesus, He answers their accusations against you. He silences the voice of the law in your conscience.
This really is the main feature of the text. It opens up with, "The Pharisees said to Him.." It should be translated, "The Pharisees kept on saying to Him." Law mongers accuse, accuse, and accuse some more. And the text doesn't close with a simple, "Jesus said to them," but literally, "Jesus kept on saying to them." So you have this picture. As often as the law mongers accuse, that's how often Jesus defends, and notice how He does it.
Jesus point out that the Pharisees are wrong about why God made the Law. He didn't do it so man could serve it. He made the Law so it could serve man. The law saying no work on the Sabbath day was so men's conscience could be at rest when they took a day off. Exodus 34 says this even applied during seed time and harvest. Imagine at a time when men's conscience would be demanding they work till they drop for the good of their family, God's Sabbath law said, "No you can rest and it won't hurt your family."
Of course, Paul tells us in Colossians 2 that the Sabbath law was only to foreshadow the coming Christ. He is the real rest. Physically resting on one day was to point them to the eternal rest Christ's innocent life and sacrificial death was bringing to them. The Law pointing to Christ could not be greater than Christ Himself. He is Lord even of it. So if He says His disciples can eat grain on the Sabbath, then it's lawful. Now apply this to us. If Christ says we're holy, though the law, law mongers, and even our conscience says we're not, still we are holy because the Son of Man is not just Lord over the Sabbath, but over the law, sin, death, and the devil too. And He invites us out of the guiltfield into His grainfield where our conscience can't accuse us, where we are righteous, and where we don't even judge ourselves. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost II (6-22-03), Mark 2:23-28