Oh my — “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath,” or not?
Gospel Reflection for Thursday, January 19th, 2021 -- Mark 2:23-28
The definition of insanity is often described as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog's Day, the Pharisees of Jesus' day keep on attempting to find fault, day after day, with no different results.
Jesus was called on the carpet quite frequently by the religious leaders of His day for “doing good things" on what was supposed to be a “day of rest.” As with yesterday’s Gospel reading, the Pharisees were incensed that Jesus would dare to defy the sabbath-day regulations. But, was He actually doing something contrary to God’s law, or man’s interpretation of them?
As I wrote yesterday, by the time of Christ, the Jewish Religious leaders had come up with a very detailed, rigorous, and legalistic set of guidelines surrounding their practice of faith, in a book called the “Mishnah.” So, according to the rules of the day, Jesus and His disciples probably shouldn’t have even been walking through that field, let alone munching on hand-picked grain. This brings up another interesting observation, the Pharisees were also working on the Sabbath by simply following Jesus through the fields.
Jesus said, ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled’ (Matthew 5:6). The hunger and thirst which He spoke of in that Beatitude are evidently spiritual, but it is amply illustrated in the two factual incidents recorded in today's Gospel, Mark 3:1-6.
The firstis an account of a controversy that arose from the actions of Jesus’ disciples on one Sabbath when they were physically hungry.
The overzealous Pharisees were the self-appointed guardians of the old laws and traditions for two or three hundred years by this time. From our readings, they were looking for any excuse to challenge Jesus - and finding nothing in Him (cf. John 14:30), it seems they were now seeking to bring charges against His disciples.
There is no doubt that the Sabbath law is Biblical. It is both a Creation ordinance (Exodus 20:8-11), and an ordinance of Redemption (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). However, what was not so Biblical was the thirty-nine man-made regulations with which the Rabbis had sought to regulate folks on the Sabbath.
The disciples were accused of doing “that which is not lawful on the Sabbath” (Mark 2:24). “Why do they?” asked the Pharisees.
Jesus’ answered them in much the same way as He overcame the tempter (cf. Matthew 4:1-11) - with Scripture. “Have you not read what David did…?” (Mark 2:25).
# In order for us to be armed and ready for the spiritual battles which we will face, we must take up ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God’ (Ephesians 6:17).
So what did David do? The fugitive David fed his men when they were hungry with the ‘showbread’ (1 Samuel 21:3-6). According to God’s law (and not just by man’s tradition), this was only lawful for the priests to eat (cf. Leviticus 24:5-9).
As I pointed out yesterday, the spirit of the law takes priority over their rigid application, as we will see in the second part of our passage.
The rule-of-thumb for both parts of the passage is the dominical saying which hinges them (Mark 2:27-28). No doubt the Pharisees felt that Jesus’ disciples were being unpatriotic by not keeping Israel’s law: but what they were forgetting was that the Sabbath was not an end in itself. It pointed forward to the redemption to come (Hebrews 4:9) - and they refused to recognize the Redeemer in their midst!
Furthermore, Jesus was - like David in the passage which He quoted - a king-in-waiting. Jesus is here identified with the Messianic motif of “Son of man” (cf. Daniel 7:13-14): and as such, He is “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:28).
This should have been the end of the argument but…
From the fields, we come into the synagogue for our second scene of the day (Mark 3:1-6). Ah, but that’s tomorrow's gospel...
The LORD requires that we DO that which is good: to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). Not just on the Sabbath, but every day. This is a lesson that many of us need to heed, not simply the Pharisees.
Gospel — Mark 2:23-28
As Jesus was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this, the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”