One Sabbath Jesus and his disciples were walking through a wheat field. The apostles were hungry so they began pulling heads of grain from the wheat stalks. This action was considered work by the Pharisees and was forbidden on the Sabbath. Therefore, the Pharisees objected to their behavior.

Jesus refers the Pharisees to the story of David and his soldiers in the Bible. When they were hungry, the temple priests gave them loaves which had been made sacred by being offered to the Lord. There was a strict law that this bread could be eaten only by the priests. Yet the Bible does not condemn the priests who gave the bread away, nor does it condemn David and his soldiers who ate the bread.

Then Jesus makes a statement, which is perhaps one of the most seminal statements in the Gospels: “The Sabbath is made for men and women, not men and women for the Sabbath.” The Lord is saying that laws governing religious observance are not ends in themselves. They do not exist for their own sake. The purpose of these laws is the good of men and women. They exist for the sake of human beings. They are means of bringing men and women into communion with God.

This is an extraordinary statement. It’s significant because the Sabbath is perhaps the holiest of Israel’s religious institutions. What Jesus is implying here is that when a conflict arises between the good of the individual human being and the demands of this most holy institution, the demands of the Sabbath must yield to the good of the individual human being—as Jesus demonstrated in his storyabout David.

We must always keep in mind: whether the institution or the law we’re speaking of has been created by the Church or the State, it doesn’t matter. The dignity of the human person surpasses by far the dignity of any law or institution.