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Proper 4, Ordinary Time 9
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Mark 2:23--3:6, The Message or Mark 2:23--3:6, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
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In the previous passage, Mark 2:13-22, Jesus was being challenged because of who he ate with, and then because he was eating and not fasting.
Today's passage ups the ante because now Jesus is being challenged for not observing the Sabbath properly. And now it is the Pharisees themselves who show up for the first time.
Pharisees are religious leaders who had personally committed to leading lives that exemplified living according to God's commands as found in the Bible - the Torah. They are not bad guys. But they are among the religious elite. They are relatively wealthy. And they act as sort of religious watch dogs to make sure that other members of the house of Israel also observe God's commands.
Observing the Sabbath and keeping it holy is foundational to the people of Israel.
It is a direct commandment from God in the Ten Commandments.
It is a practice that distinguishes them from all others.
So when the Pharisees challenge Jesus about his disciples doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath, the stakes are high indeed.
But to their chagrin, Jesus - that uneducated hillbilly peasant from the backwoods of Galilee - is able to quote scripture to defend himself.
And then he gives a new teaching about the Sabbath: the Sabbath is made for people, and not people for the Sabbath.
And then he implies an outrageously high status for himself.
The Bible is actually a little unclear as to precisely how the title, Son of Man, applies to Jesus. Sometimes Jesus seems to use it for a future apocalyptic person. Sometimes, as here, he could be using it to refer to himself.
In either case, Jesus is claiming insider knowledge of Heaven's workings - the Pharisees would be left thinking: This guy thinks he knows who God has made Lord of the Sabbath!
And just to emphasize the point, there is immediately another incident about what is lawful on the Sabbath.
Mark's comment in Verse 2 is another indication of Jesus' honourable sensitivity to others being skeptical of his honour.
But Jesus meets the challenge by heightening it - he invites the man with the withered hand to come and stand centre stage.
And once again, he asks a question that presents a no-win choice for his opponents.
Having silenced them, Jesus demonstrates his own authority by healing the man.
Mark notes how much was at stake in this battle over Sabbath observance by noting, Verse 6:
The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
We'll next meet up with the Pharisees and the Herodians in Mark 12:13, the last week of Jesus' life.
So what are we religious people to do with this lesson?
On the one hand, like the Pharisees, we want to live our lives in accord with the Bible.
But on the other hand, we find Jesus using the Bible to challenge understandings of what the Bible tells us to do!
So does that mean Jesus gives us the correct and final answer as to what the Bible tells us to do?
Or does it mean that we should follow Jesus' example of using the Bible to correct our conclusions of what the Bible tells us to do?
The stakes are high.
I wonder how we choose, and what difference it makes in how we are followers of Jesus?
Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 29-31; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. See below.
Mark 2:23--3:6 (NRSV)
23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?" 25 And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 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." 27 Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."
3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." 4 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. 5 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. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Mark 2:23--3:6 (The Message)
23 One Sabbath day he was walking through a field of ripe grain. 24 As his disciples made a path, they pulled off heads of grain. The Pharisees told on them to Jesus: "Look, your disciples are breaking Sabbath rules!"
25 Jesus said, "Really? Haven't you ever read what David did when he was hungry, along with those who were with him? 26 How he entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, with the Chief Priest Abiathar right there watching—holy bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat—and handed it out to his companions?" 27 Then Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren't made to serve the Sabbath. 28 The Son of Man is no lackey to the Sabbath. He's in charge!"
3 Then he went back in the meeting place where he found a man with a crippled hand. 2 The Pharisees had their eyes on Jesus to see if he would heal him, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. 3 He said to the man with the crippled hand, "Stand here where we can see you."
4 Then he spoke to the people: "What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?" No one said a word.
5 He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, "Hold out your hand." He held it out—it was as good as new! 6 The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod's followers and ruin him.
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce J. Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
+ Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, Jewish Annotated New Testament, The Bible With and Without Jesus, Short Stories by Jesus, Entering the Passion of Jesus, and others.