I grew up in a little Baptist church in North Dakota, where we faithfully had Communion, or the Lord’s Supper as we called it, once a month. Just like now. It must be a Baptist thing.
On communion Sundays, when the service was over and the grownups were standing around talking, we kids who were too young to participate in Communion would descend on the table holding the leftover elements. We helped ourselves to the soft, pillowy cubes of white bread, and tiny glasses of grape juice. It was lunch time and we were hungry.
Our parents treated this behavior with a mixture of slight discomfort and benevolent shrugging. On one hand, it seemed a bit scandalous. On the other hand, what was going to happen to the leftovers anyway?
I was reminded of this while reading the story of Jesus’ disciples walking through the grain fields on the Sabbath. They were hungry, Matthew says, and began eating the heads of grain. The Pharisees were outraged at this unlawful behavior. True, you weren’t supposed to spend the Sabbath day harvesting. You were supposed to plan ahead. But neither were you required to go hungry.
Unruffled, Jesus asks them if they know the Old Testament story of David and his friends entering the house of God, on the run and hungry, and eating the consecrated bread. Of course they did; they were Pharisees after all. They knew the Torah inside out. Mark tells us that Jesus defends the disciples by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”
In other words, resting on the Sabbath was for the benefit of God’s people, not the other way around. Far from being a burden, resting one day out of seven was a great mercy for people who had previously been slaves in Egypt, making bricks seven days a week. The motivation behind the Sabbath was to have a day off to worship and rest, not to be fearful that meeting a legitimate need like hunger would incur God’s wrath.
This tells me that God is a very good father. He sees our needs and takes care of us. Maybe you trip over the image of God as a father because you didn’t have a good human father. The thought of God delighting in you and defending you may not be on your radar. I’m so glad the gospel writers included this incident in their portraits of Jesus. It’s important to know that the God who created us is paying attention to our needs, just as a loving human parent wants to make sure his child has a water bottle to get her through the baseball game, or a doctor and medicine when he’s sick. God is delighted to care for his children.
These lyrics from “Big House” by Audio Adrenaline express this idea perfectly:
and go with me
to my Father’s house.
Come and go with me
to my Father’s house.
It’s a big big house
With lots and lots of rooms.
A big big table
With lots and lots of food.
A big big yard
Where we can play football.
A big big house
Is my Father’s house.
I love this, and I don’t even play football. Here is God, feeding his kids, letting them run around in the yard, and watching the whole thing with great love and affection. I think that when my friends and I ate the bread and drank the juice after church, God was smiling at us.
Because he’s a really good father and he delights in his kids.