When I think about this Gospel reading, I wonder what’s really going on. Were the Pharisees really concerned that the Sabbath was being violated, and that people were not experiencing sabbath rest from their labors so that they could grow in relationship with their God? Probably not. Contextually, we can see how the Pharisees were being pharisaical: they were concerned more about the minute aspects of the law than on bringing people to relationship with God.
For Jesus, there wasn’t such a thing as a Sabbath rest from his mission of healing, and teaching, and bringing people to salvation. So as he walked along with his disciples, it didn’t bother him that they were “working” by picking heads of grain to eat. They were hungry. And Jesus was all about feeding people’s hunger, no matter what kind of hunger it was, and no matter what day it was – Sabbath or not.
He would be widely criticized for teaching on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for news of salvation. He would be called blasphemous for calling God his Father on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for relationship with their God. He would receive death threats for healing on the Sabbath, but people were hungry for wholeness, and relief, and new life.
Jesus’ point here is that the Sabbath is never important just for itself. The Sabbath was an opportunity for people to rest in God, and it was God, not the Law, that could decide how that happened. The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.