If you knew what this meant,
you would not have condemned these innocent men.For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”
This story, found in all three of the synoptic gospels, always reminds me of the Yahoo moment in the 1970's television show, Hee Haw. As Jesus and his disciples are walking along a dusty road from nowhere-in-particular to the next nowhere-in-particular, some of the fellows pick ripe grains of wheat, rub them between their hands to scratch off the husks, and eat them.
Suddenly, from amid the wheat stalks (cornstalks on Hee Haw) the Pharisees jump up and cry, "That's a no-no!"
Scruples are like that. They follow us wherever we go. Especially people like me, with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, worry all year round, seven days a week, through night and day, whether we're thinking, saying and doing what we are supposed to be thinking, saying and doing at this particular moment.
Freud and his ilk explained the anxiety in terms of id, ego, and superego; though I came to understand it better after reading I'm okay, You're okay. Author Thomas A. Harris described the trio as child, parent and adult.
In this story, Jesus is the adult, the disciples are children and the Pharisees are the opinionated parents. Try as they will the children cannot please the parents; they are implacable. The adult who is wise, moral and sympathetic manages the conversation. Sometimes the adult restrains the child according to the advice of the parent; at other times the adult permits what the parent considers taboo.
The Christian who has truly put on Christ is always aware of principles and rules but is also guided by the Holy Spirit, as was Jesus.
The Spirit knows there is a time and season for everything under heaven, and the Spirit knows the season of this particular moment. Is this the time to eat or refrain from eating?
Saint Paul addressed the issue of food when he advised his Roman disciples to refrain from eating meat which had been consecrated to idols, if it distressed some of the less-mature Christians. It's no big deal, he assured them, but it's better not to scandalize the gullible.
I have to remind myself of that continually as I often use colorful language which many people consider inappropriate to a chaplain. There are times when certain words just fit the occasion! But some Veterans who've not darkened the door of the church in fifty years have deep convictions about how ministers should talk.
Jesus and Saint Paul remind us that the principle is mercy, that is compassion for one's fellow Christians. Freedom to eat whatever I want or say whatever I feel like saying must never disrespect people around me. We must be disciplined by mercy.
Those who think their moral conscience is more mature than that of others, that they are way out in front of the Church, may find themselves lost in the wilderness. Although they have gone ahead, the Holy Spirit led the trailing Church elsewhere.
By way of mercy, the Holy Spirit leads us to communion, not righteousness.