Week 8: READ: Mark 2:23-3:6
The final scene before intermission links two conflict stories both addressing the question of what is acceptable behavior on the Sabbath. These questions were of obvious importance for Mark to include these stories of Jesus in his Gospel. What are the questions or conflicts we face as a faith community that we need to address?
The first story (2:23-28) is about Jesus’ disciples harvesting grain in a field as they walked along one Sabbath. Frankly, there is much in this story that does not interest me. As a grain farmer, first of all, it would have driven my dad crazy having random people walking through his field. You cannot walk through a grain field without stepping down much of the grain and weakening the harvest. While it says the disciples were plucking heads of grain, the text does not say they were eating the grain. It is assumed because of the story tells to justify the behavior of followers.
This represents a classic Gospel conflict story because the religious leaders are within view so they could observe and criticize Jesus. The story Jesus refers to about David and the bread of the Presence in 1 Samuel 21:1-6. Mark misquotes the story of the priest in the story is Ahimelech and not Abiathar who was Ahimelech’s son and does not appear until 1 Samuel 22:20. Like the use of questions that preceded this story like “What is this a new teaching with authority” (1:27)? Or “Who can forgive sins but God alone” (2:7)? Or again, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners” (2:16)? And then they asked, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast” (2:18)?
To the challenge by the Pharisees regarding what is lawful on the Sabbath, Jesus responds, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath (2:27). With Jesus, the Son of God in town, it’s a new day!
In the final conflict story, it’s the Sabbath and Jesus enters another synagogue. Don’t you just love it when people are in the house so they could “watch him to see if he would cure on the Sabbath, so they might accuse him” (3:2). Jesus is my hero! He does not back down in the face of opposition. Instead, he invites the man with a withered hand forward as he is the subject of their gaze anyway. He puts the question of the day on the table for everyone to consider: “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill” (3:4)?
The issue at hand is captured well by Eduard Schweizer: Since Jesus reply is radical, it is clear once more that a question is at stake here which primarily concerns the law. It is a matter of either-or: Failure to do so is the same as doing evil; failure to save a life is the same as destroying it. When good ought to be done there is no neutral ground where one does neither good nor evil. There is no escape, nor is there any justification for a legalism which merely for the sake of orthodoxy fails to do the good and therefore produces evil, (ibid. p. 75). The silence in the room is notable and included in the story. You could say it was deafening. Jesus interpreted the mute mouths as hard hearts and he was angry!
This story is not just a showdown between Jesus and the Pharisees. It is also a healing story. Part of our healing includes our willingness to be healed. For others, there may be a physical response: to the paralyzed man, Jesus said stand up and he was healed (2:9). In this story, Jesus tells the man to extend his hand and he is healed (3:5).
The account concludes with the now satisfied Pharisees who just observed Jesus healing on the Sabbath. The seeds of the death of Jesus were just planted with the Herodians (3:6). This line is a foreshadow of what will happen later in the story. With that the curtain drops.
Sometimes doing what is right and necessary is extremely difficult and painful. When Marge walked into my life, she was divorced with five adult children and one granddaughter who was four years old. Her marriage had been a mess. She had tried counseling for herself and tried to get her husband at the time to go as well. No matter what she tried, she was the only one working at it. She grew up in a broken home and did not want that for herself and her family in the worst way. This is why she stayed in the marriage until her youngest child was off to college.
To make matters worse, when Marge went to see her pastor for counsel, he used his office and power as a pastor to sexually assault her. This sent Marge spiraling downward into her own hell. After a few years of safe and healthy counseling, she needed to address her deep-seated hurt toward God, the church and men in authority. Her counselor helped her to find a safe United Church of Christ small congregation with a female pastor. She was back on the road toward healing in many areas of her life.
As the UCC church began to struggle to find a pastor and be financially viable, I happened to meet Marge on an ecumenical Stations of the Cross community walk. We talked a bit along the way between station stops. By the time we completed the walk, Marge asked if we could meet sometime to talk in a public space. Our conversations grew from there.
When Marge shared bits of her story with me over time, I was amazed at her resilience and persistence. Marge had come a long way and through a lot of pain to get to a place to talk with me as a male pastor. She is very spiritual, a woman of prayer and the one who helped me see the great value in boundaries. I needed boundaries to protect myself, my family and my energy so that when I must respond, I have the energy to do so. This is one of Marge’s biggest gifts given to me.
- What does Jesus saying that he is the lord of the Sabbath mean to your life?
- The Sabbath was designed for our care as a day of rest and renewal that begins with the worship of God. How do you apply Sabbath rest and renewal in your life?
- The story of the healing of the man’s hand is more about doing the good that needs to be done than anything else. What do good acts look like for you?
- What is God saying to you in this study?