The generosity of the priests
Our Lord dismisses their extreme interpretation by referring to an incident that involved David and his men and then by making it clear that “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
The Pharisees seemed to take pleasure in choosing the most burdensome interpretation of the law possible. This is in contrast to the approach that the Church would take, exemplified in Canon 18: that “laws which establish a penalty (or) restrict the free exercise of rights… are subject to strict interpretation”, which effectively means that these laws are to be interpreted in such a way as to be as least restrictive as possible.
(A quick digression on problematic interpretations, the Lectionary translators have chosen the most problematic translation possible in this passage: making it seem as if our Lord got his history wrong. Other translations preserve the ambiguity of the Greek text, e.g., “in the days of Abiathar the high priest”. Abiathar’s father held the office of High Priest at that moment, but Abiathar was on the scene and would be known to history as a very important High Priest.)
The unnecessarily restrictive attitude of the Pharisees stands in dramatic contrast to generous and courageous attitude of Abiathar the priest and his father the High Priest. They let David and his men eat the bread which belonged to them by divine right, because they were hungry and in trouble. These priests would also pay dearly for this generosity, for King Saul would command that they, their family, and all the priests be slaughtered. Abiathar would escape Saul’s vengeance and would long serve as David’s ally, in good times and in bad.
While holding fast to what is true and what is holy, may you and I also be generous and courageous in our own lives, in good times and in bad, like Abiathar the priest.