Gospel of John: Plucking Grain


As a transition into Jesus’ testimony about himself, John wrote a summary paragraph concerning events the other gospels had already recorded, beginning with a sum up of the man made whole.


And through this the Judeans persecuted Jesus, for he did these things on Sabbath.

John 5:16

So many people had pressed in for healing and prayer that they had gone long into the night, with hardly a pause even to attend to personal needs. In the morning Jesus had drawn them into prayer even as their stomachs growled and their tongues felt thick and dry. None dared say they were hungry, and for Andrew and John, who had been used to the Baptist’s regular fasts, this seemed somehow right. Devotion to God, fervor for God, would require personal sacrifice, and discipline.

Then it was time to walk to the synagogue. They had slept rough the night before, a beautiful summer night, it was no hardship. They hoped to see a spring where they could wash their hands and faces, and get a drink, and soon ahead they saw a field of ripening grain. Perhaps there would be a rustic well somewhere nearby.

As they came near the field, their rabbi reached out his hand and felt the plump kernels, almost ready to reap. He turned to them with a smile and a nod, then ran his thumb up an ear of wheat, at the corner of the field. Rich, golden grains broke off into his hands. As he rubbed them, the chaff loosened and he blew slowly to free the wheat from their casings, then poured the kernels into his mouth, and began to chew.

“the Father has made provision for us,” he told them, “for is it not written, ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor’?” His eyes twinkled as he asked them, for it was more than a question. It was a teaching and an invitation.

Still, they hesitated, for it was Sabbath.

Noting their disquiet, Jesus spoke softly and gently, the final few words of the scripture he had just quoted.

“’I am the Lord your God.’”

Tingles of electricity ran up their spines, raising the hair on their arms, and flushing their blood right up their necks and into their faces. Nathanael parted his lips as though to speak, then stopped, his mouth left hanging open. After what seemed eternity, Peter shot out his arm and grabbed a whole fistful, rubbing the kernels vigorously with both hands. Before he could stop himself, Phillip laughed out loud, and Jesus laughed, too.

As Matthew hung back to take in the moment, he noted where the sun was in the sky, time soon for worship. He took in the road, the chaff floating all around them with its dusty fruity scent, the broken stalks in the corner of the field, the gentle hum of insects, the men, seemingly in slow motion, rubbing wheat and eating their fill.

Later, when he wrote this story down, Matthew would remember how furious the Pharisees had been, so protective of the laws of God, and indeed of their own interpretations of God’s words. It was all of equal authority to the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Their word and God’s word were treated as one.

Then Jesus had quoted from the prophet Samuel, reminding them of the anointed David eating the showbread from the Lord’s own table. Oh, what a sermon their rabbi had delivered! “Have you not read”? he asked them, even priests desecrate the Sabbath with their work, yet they are innocent. Or is the Lord a harsh God? By no means, for did God not say, “I desire mercy, not sacrifices.” Jesus told them something even greater than the temple was now here, and pointed to himself. After a few heavily laden moments of silence, he then waved his hand to include them, his talmidim.

Matthew remembered smiling with a sense of overwhelming joy and pride in his rabban in that hour.

And then, in a brilliant flash of power that made even the sun burst brighter, Jesus raised his hands to heaven and said in his strong, deep voice, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

The gathered crowd had gasped, clutching their robes and throwing frightened looks at the Pharisees. They, in turn, had turned white, their beards trembling.[1]


It was not the first time Jesus had angered the religious authorities. He had already released a demoniac from his tormenters on the Sabbath, recorded in Luke. And on the Sabbath day all three gospel writers wrote about, Jesus had defended his disciples for picking grain, then he had turned around to heal a man’s withered hand, as the Pharisees helplessly watched. Jesus had presented a theology so true they could not deny him.

Jesus was honoring the Sabbath according to the heart of God, but he was also deliberately challenging the legalistic scribes and Pharisees. Matthew and the other disciples would later realize it was at this very event, this day, the turning point had come.


But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Matthew 12:14

John’s one summary paragraph took in the vivid events of that fateful Sabbath and added what Jesus had said that touched off the flames of the Pharisees’ fury.


My Father is yet engaging in work and I also am engaging in work.

Jesus, to the Pharisees in John 5:17

The rabbinic tradition said, “God still does two works on the Sabbath: He creates and He judges.” And, the Psalm clearly stated the Lord never rests but is always watching over and caring for God’s creation. Jesus was on solid theological ground, so what made the religious rulers so beyond enraged they were prepared to commit murder?

John expanded  on what Matthew, and the other gospels had explained about this turning point.


Therefore, through this the Judeans all the more sought to put Jesus to death, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but also he named God his father, making himself equal to God.

John 5:18

[1] My imagined scene from Matthew 12:1-8

[Jesus and his disciples in a field of grain | the LUMO Project, 111.freebibleimages.org

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