Mark 2:23 – 3:6
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they
made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The
Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful
on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what
David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of
food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest,
and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but
the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he
said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not
humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a
withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him
on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the
man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to
them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save
life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with
anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the
man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was
restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with
the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Friday evening Ted and I were lavished, refreshed and delighted by the Dayton
Philharmonic Orchestra’s Fiedler’s Favorites. The tickets were gifts from you,our
parish family, given at the Celebration of Our New Mutual Ministry on February
1 st of this year. Thank you. The concert brimmed with mostly familiar melodies
coupled with impassioned arrangements tickling our ears and souls.
We all need a break from work and worry, and I thank you for this wonderful
The ancient Hebrews were unique among cultures in that they were instructed by
their God to work only 6 days and then rest, taking Sabbath. In the Book of
Genesis, God rested after 6 days of creating the heavens and the earth, so the
Hebrews were only to toil 6 days, then rest from their labor and worship their God.
Also, every 7 th day, Sabbath was a reminder that God freed the Hebrew peoplefrom
Subsequent generations would honor the Sabbath as an unambiguous reminder to
worship God and not allow anything to enslave them, not even their own drive for
success. I think it is healthy for us to take notice.
In our Gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus was attacked by religious authorities for his
disciples’ behavior on the Sabbath. While walking through a field, the disciples
pulled off some grain from stocks to eat raw, as they were hungry. Their actions
were considered by some as gleaning the harvest and, therefore, working on the
Jesus’ counterpoint reminded those religious pietists that God designated the
Sabbath for the benefit of God’s people – not as a rule of obedience impoverished
from compassion. He further demonstrated God’s compassion on the Sabbath by
healing a man with a withered hand while worshipping in a local synagogue.
Jesus position was clear: Sabbath was intended as God’s expression of compassion
and acknowledgement of basic human limits and needs.
The religious authorities were embarrassed about being outwitted and losing their
theological argument to a young rebellious rabbi, yet they would have been
pacified by Jesus’ response. But Jesus’ reference to the ‘Son of Man’ crossed an
Jesus’ reference to the ‘Son of Man’ and perceived identification with that person
in Mark’s Gospel as well as in other Gospels infuriated the religious authorities.
In an article entitled Yeshua the Son of Man by Jeff A. Benner, the reasoning for
the response is made clear. Their enraged response most likely stems from a
linguistic difference that infers a connection inconceivable to the religious
authorities of the time. Benner argues that Jesus probably spoke Hebrew while
conversing with the religious authorities and during his visit to the synagogue,
which shines a spotlight on the essence of the controversy. Benner writers:
“If Yeshua (Jesus) was speaking in Aramaic and used the phrase bar enosh,
he is (still) just calling himself a man, as in Aramaic bar enosh means
nothing more than (a human being,) a & son of man.
But if he were speaking in Hebrew, his listeners would expect the phrase ben
adam if he were simply referring to himself as a man; but if he changed to
Aramaic for this one phrase, then he is definitely referencing (the Book of)
Daniel 7:13, a well-known messianic prophecy in the first century.”
Mark’s Gospel tells us that Jesus’ reference to the ‘Son of Man’ or Messianic
claim infuriated the religious authorities enough to begin seeking Jesus’ ultimate
demise. Benner’s revelation helps to make sense of the religious authorities
What is important for us to garner and appreciate from this Gospel reading?
While we all hear and imagine things differently, three points of this reading stand
out to me.
The first is that Jesus claims to be God’s Messiah. This is scandalous for many of
his contemporaries while a matter of faith to you and me in light of Jesus’ life,
teachings, death, resurrection, ascension and promised gift of God’s Holy Spirit, as
well as our own experience of God in Jesus.
The second point is simply an encouragement to serious keep Sabbath. The world
is ruled by profit, success and greed. As God’s people we are not to allow
anything to enslave us; not the world and its ways, not consumerism, materialism
or selfishness, not our own drive for achievement or the gains of success. We are
better than that. We deserve better.
A writer by the name of Wayne Muller wrote a short article entitled Stop the Week!
He tells of former Harvard President Neil Rudenstine oversleeping one day. It
took place in the midst of a major fund-raising campaign. “After years of nonstop
toil in an atmosphere that rewarded frantic overwork, Rudenstine was severely
fatigued.” Only after a three-month leave of absence was Rundenstine able to
return to a more paced schedule that included Sabbath.
Muller continues: “Within (the) mosaic (of life) there is a universal refrain: ‘I am
so busy.’ We say this to one another as if our exhaustion were a trophy, or ability
to withstand stress a mark of character. The busier we are , the more important we
seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and
family, to be unable to find time for the sunset, to whiz through our obligations
without time for a single mindful breath – this has become the model of a
successful life… Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass
points that show us where to go, the quiet that gives us wisdom.”
Keeping Sabbath not only means acknowledging that God is God of our life and
God deserves our attention, praise, prayers and devotion, keeping Sabbath means
acknowledging our need for rest and refreshment. Keeping Sabbath means
honoring God and showing compassion to our self.
The third point standing out to me is God’s desire for us to show compassion over
obedience to religious rules, beliefs and social norms. As the Sabbath is made for
humanity rather than humanity created for the Sabbath, so religious rules,
theological perspectives and all our individual differences, abilities and countless
idiosyncrasies never justify separating ourselves one from another.
All people are God’s people. While we hear and imagine things differently and
hold to various beliefs, and express ourselves in myriads of ways, compassion
grounded in God’s love is the expected motivation and most beneficial behavior of
Keeping Sabbath and showing compassion are both gifts from God. Keeping
Sabbath and showing compassion to our self and others are healthy and purpose-
filled ways of living that God desires for each one of us.
During the upcoming summer months, remember to keep nurturing both body and
spirit. Recall that self-care, compassion for others and honoring God are never to
be divided or unbalanced.
You are claimed as God’s love one. Treat yourself and others like the loved ones
we truly are.