Yeshua’s disciples plucked grain on the Sabbath passing through fields and were accused of violating God’s commandment (Mat 12:2). But Jesus defended them and explained why they were not guilty (Mat 12:7). Something greater than the Sabbath, and even the Jerusalem Temple, had arrived.
What can be more important than the Sabbath? In first-century Jewish thinking, Sabbath laws could be set aside for certain reasons. For example, because of danger to someone’s life, a need to perform circumcision, or any duty in the Temple. Indeed, Temple sacrifices always took precedence over Shabbat prohibitions. To everyone’s amazement, Jesus explained, “something greater than the Temple is here” (Matt 12:6).
Before rushing to the familiar notion that it is Jesus himself who is greater than the Temple, notice that Yeshua did not say “someone,” but rather “something greater” (μεῖζόν; meizon). That is, he was not speaking about a person; he did not speak of himself in the neuter! Immediately after Jesus says that “something greater than the Temple is here,” he quotes Hosea 6:6: “God desires compassion more than sacrifice” to help his hearers connect the dots. The word translated as “compassion” (ἔλεος; helios) is neuter in Greek. This “something greater” is “God’s favor” — the kind of divine grace that is often translated “loving kindness” (חֶסֶד; chesed). It is God’s favor — his chesed — that is even greater than the Temple.
As Jesus’ disciples walked through the grain fields on the Sabbath they were hungry, and despite the fact that it was a day of rest, Jesus offered his hungry disciples chesed — the compassion and the grace that allowed them to satisfy their hunger. This kind of loving kindness will always be more central than the Sabbath or the Temple in people’s relationship with their heavenly Father.