One sabbath while Jesus was going through the cornfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’ Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’
St Ambrose of Milan (c. 333 – 397) said that this piece of law-breaking in the cornfield was designed to lead the disciples into freedom in action, not just to get them talking about freedom. “The Lord Jesus begins to free them from the old law... not only through the understanding of words but also through actions performed in plain view.”
“Do you want to be well?” Jesus once asked a man at the Sheep Pool (John 5:6). It wasn't a foregone conclusion that he wanted it. We often have a stake in our illnesses. We can imagine Jesus asking us, “Do you want to be free?” Quite often we don't.
‘Freedom’ is a buzz word in advertising, and that alone should make us wary. Advertisers tout all sorts of slavery before us under the brand name of freedom. These pretended forms of freedom don't carry much weight, and a moment’s reflection is enough to dispel them. But we are usually quite afraid of real freedom. We have a stake in our many forms of slavery, and freedom is often a heavier burden. I suppose it is partly because there is always the question, How am I going to eat tomorrow?
Jesus said his burden was light (Mt 11:30), but it is light only if we get under it fully. When we try to hold onto it with one hand while holding our addictions and attachments with the other, it becomes heavy. When we have a moment of real freedom we attract another enemy or two. Still, we pray to be set free. Free for what? Free to set others free. He himself came “to set the downtrodden free” (Lk 4:18).
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