“Haven’t you read what David did ...” (Matthew 12:3-8)

“Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread--which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that One greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:3-8)

Why is Jesus talking about David and his 'companions'?

This statement by Jesus is in response to the criticism by the Pharisees who saw Jesus and his disciples walking through a grain field on the Sabbath - a day known for fasting. Some of the disciples were hungry and picked some heads of grain and ate.

Jesus compares this situation to when David and his companions ate consecrated bread from the temple and this went against institutional temple law at the time.

Jesus also points out here that the scriptures say that when temple priests ate bread on the Sabbath, they were not guilty of breaking the law.

Jesus is comparing himself and his disciples to David and his companions - and the temple priests who also broke the law of the Sabbath. What do they have in common?

What they have in common is that they were loving servants of God, involved in using their lives to teach others about the Supreme Being.

This is why Jesus says here:
"I tell you that One greater than the temple is here." 

Is Jesus calling himself 'greater than the temple'?

Many sectarian teachers have interpreted this statement to mean that Jesus is calling himself "One greater than the temple." But would Jesus really make this kind of statement about himself? Is this the same Jesus who said:
"For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of Him who sent me." (John 6:38)

"For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:50)

“My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me." (John 7:16)
Notice the use of "the One" in the last quote - and its use ("One greater") here. Since there must be another sender besides Jesus if someone else sent him, Jesus is not referring to himself as "the One."

Jesus is obviously not considering himself "One greater than the temple." This is an attribute that can only be made to "the One" who sent Jesus - the Father - the Supreme Being.

And this is the common bond between the comparison between himself, David, and the priests with regard to following institutional temple law. Jesus is saying that he is serving the Supreme Being. And the Supreme Being is thus present in those works.

As such, that service on behalf of the Supreme Being would qualify as trumping the ritualistic institutional temple laws.

Why? Because the Supreme Being is the Owner and Controller of everything. Therefore, He is not subject to any laws - all laws come from Him - therefore He is not subject to them.

This is the meaning of Jesus' statement: "I tell you that One greater than the temple is here."

What does 'lord of the Sabbath' mean?

And what about "the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath"? What does this mean?

Since he was speaking of the activities of David, he could not be saying he is the only 'lord of the sabbath'.

It would also be odd for Jesus to be speaking about himself in the third person, right after discussing David and the priests. Isn't he comparing his activity with theirs? Why would he then eliminate them from being "sons of man"? And if he did, why would he say it in the third person?

How many people do this when they speak? If a person named Tom were to feel hungry, would he say “Tom is hungry”? No. He would say “I am hungry.” Likewise, if Jesus were to be speaking specifically of himself here he would have used "I", "me" or "my." This would be common sense, and very clear. Also, note that Matthew does not indicate that Jesus himself was eating out of the field - Jesus was defending his disciples' activity.

What does Jesus mean by 'mercy not sacrifice'?

The quote that Jesus brings to this statement is from Hosea 6:6, when God spoke through Hosea and said:
"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings."
This statement from Matthew 9:13 would also capture the essence and meaning of Jesus’ statements prior to this last sentence. Jesus is explaining, for example, with the Hosea quote, that what the Supreme Being wants from us is our loving service, not necessarily following rituals: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’

The use of "mercy" here in Hosea and by Jesus refers to service that pleases God and helps others realize their relationship with the Supreme Being. This means being compassionate upon others. If a person has heard the Truth about the Supreme Being, and he is merciful to others, that person will pass the Truth on to them. This is mercy, and this is captured by the title, "Son of Man"  which is better translated to "Servant of Humanity."

The Supreme Being loves us and cherishes us, and knows that we will only be happy when we take part in such a loving relationship. Thus He wants us to acknowledge Him with love and devotion in practical ways. Just following a bunch of rituals for the sake of being accepted by our peers or by a sectarian organization doesn’t accomplish this. 

The Supreme Being wants us to independently develop our own personal relationship with Him, and freely choose to live our lives with love in our hearts.