When I was a kid growing up on our wheat farm in New South Wales, we would take great delight in grabbing a few heads of grain from a paddock that was going to be harvested in a week or two, de-husking the scratchy dry plant matter between our soft palms and crunching on the slightly nutty but very hard individual grains.
Now, as a follower of Jesus, I realise that he created that wheat. He designed the hideously complex DNA/RNA coding and duplication systems, the proteins, lipids and carbohydrates, the cell structures, the wheat’s different atomic elements and all their crazy sub-atomic quantum particles, the laws of physics and chemistry that hold every wheat molecule together, and the climatic processes that converge to produce nutritious food for us humans. He did the lot in an instant, while making the rest of the universe with ease!
So, imagine the insane level of frustration he must have felt when abused by some pedantic religious leaders for allowing his men to eat some unharvested wheat one sabbath! The passage is in Matthew 12:1-8. He made the universe and the wheat but, by some twist of that superb Jewish knack for inventing religious rules and regulations, he and his men were in the sin bin for eating it. By some twist of some previous religious leader’s anal imagination, it had been decreed as “work”.
This attack from those of the “old wine” defending the “old wineskins” deserved to be slammed back in its box and buried once and for all. So, Jesus went on the attack in a way not seen anywhere else in scripture outside Matthew chapter 23. Like Muhammad Ali, he first softened up his opponents with some blows of moral guilt: He showed them that David had done this very same thing long ago (1 Samuel 21:1-6), yet he was their hero. Then he stated the obvious: If you can’t feed yourself while hungry and travelling on a sabbath, then what justification was there for the priests to do their temple work on the sabbath?
Then he went in for the killer blow. Well actually three killer blows.
In three short sentences between verses 6-8, Jesus demolished the entire Jewish religious system. First, he declared that he was greater than the entire Old Testament temple system. Ouch. Bam! Then he destroyed the entire Old Testament system of sacrifices by quoting Hosea 6:6. Bam. Bam! Then he decreed that the sabbath itself, the basis of the attack against him, was defunct by announcing that he was Lord over the Sabbath. Bam. Bam. Bam! Fight over with a knockout.
Think about it as if you were the creator of the universe and this happened to you. It would be like the queen of England being subject to a strip search on her arrival at Timbuctoo airport, times a million!
The Jewish religious leaders had twisted the idea of a sabbath rest for communion with the Lord into a power structure for controlling people and keeping them away from their Lord. The temple system was designed to symbolically wash away sins so they could enter the Lord’s presence, but they had turned it into a greedy money-making machine. Now their Lord was present and right next to them so there was no need for either of these two shadows of the future. The new wine, housed in a new wineskin had arrived.
The oxymoronality (a new word I just invented) of this scene and passage defies description! I’m frustrated just writing about it so imagine the degree to which Jesus would have had to control his emotions to get his point across to these blockheads. No wonder there was no love lost between him and the pharisees right through the gospels. This is their rationale for why they killed him (John 11:50). He was in the process of destroying their entire civilization and building a new one based on eternal relationship with the creator of the universe instead of shadows and rules.