“The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).
Mark’s reference to the story of David and Abiathar and the bread of the covenant (from 1 Sam 22) to support Jesus’ authority to allow his disciples to eat grain they pick in the fields on the Sabbath adds rich perspective to this Gospel passage.
We recall that for Jews the primary source of authority came from Moses and the Law. But King David was another source that Jesus’ critics could not ignore. In using the story, Jesus reminds them that though the ceremonial bread used in the temple was restricted to the priests, David and his men were hungry, like his own disciples. Human need overrides ritual protocol. The Sabbath serves people, not the other way around.
But there is more to the story. At the time David encounters the temple priest Abiathar, he is fleeing King Saul, who is jealous of David’s popularity and is trying to kill him. So David is in fact a fugitive from the king, and a rebel to his authority. He is outside the Law, but he is superior to the Law because God’s favor has already passed from Saul to David, who has already been anointed king to succeed Saul by the high priest, Samuel.
Mark applies this succession to Jesus, whose authority is greater than that of the Law. He is the new Moses, and his teaching proclaims a new covenant. He is the promised descendant of David, the Messiah. The bread of the temple, or the manna Moses called down from heaven, is being replaced by the Bread of Life, revealed as Jesus’s own gift of himself to his disciples.
The Gospel gives us a new freedom by revealing something greater than rules and rituals. It is the law of Love, which is often much more difficult than a written code. Love requires engagement and discernment. When confronted by human need, love asks us to respond, even to “break” the rules. Compassion asks us to act first, and then sort out the details or ambiguities. We may not be following Moses, but perhaps we are following David, the charismatic figure whose passionate approach to life and to the graces poured out on him reminds us of Jesus.
Jesus fulfilled the entire Law by keeping the Law of Love, and we are called to do the same.