God-Soaked World Bible Guide – Day 25
March 30, 2017
Thursday, March 30 – Mark 2:23-3:6
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 1Again 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.
Points of Interest:
- The Sabbath was a big deal to Jesus’ contemporaries. It’s one of the ten commandments. Weekly rest and worship ideally helps us remember the point of life as it was meant to be and reminds communities that the point of life isn’t to be enslaved to our work. During Jesus’ age, it was also an important responsibility and an identity marker – a way of showing yourself and others that you were a faithful Jew.
- Jesus and his students are doing what looks like a very “day of rest” thing to do – they’re taking a lovely walk through a field of grain, grabbing snacks for later as they go. To the Pharisees – the most devoted interpreters of religious law in this generation – it looks very much like work, against the Sabbath regulations that had been codified over time.
- On the surface, the argument the Pharisees pick with Jesus sounds trivial. At a deeper level, though, it’s an argument about Bible, authority, and the very meaning of life. The Pharisees view Bible (or at least large parts of it) as Law, an abstract set of timeless regulations to govern good, God-acceptable behavior. In raising a competing story, Jesus shows that he views Bible as a compendium of laws and stories to help you discern God’s ways.
The Pharisees understand the Bible and the religious traditions that surround it as the ultimate source of authority for governing communities and individual choices. In his example of David’s own seemingly law-breaking behavior, Jesus says that David had authority from God to do differently, and that Jesus, by implication, has David’s authority and even more to reinterpret law. Authority is personalized, in Jesus.
And the Pharisees understand the meaning of life first as obedience – doing the things God has taught us to do, finding fulfillment and happiness and approval from God in serving the master – in this case the master of religious law – that has been given to us. Jesus says that that God has given us practices like Sabbath for our benefit. The meaning of life is discovering God’s path for human flourishing and enjoying it.
- Later that day, another encounter takes this dispute and just widens the gulf. In the synagogue, a guy with enough problems of his own – life with one non-functioning hand can’t be easy – is used by the same religious authorities to test Jesus. They watch as Jesus demonstrates that the point of religious spaces like synagogue and God-directed practices like Sabbath is human flourishing. All genuine spiritual experience is life-giving, not life-harming or life-sucking.
This recasting of the point of religion and the point of life is so threatening to the religious establishment that they conspire with their natural enemies (the more secular sellouts to Rome, the Herodians) to kill Jesus. Ironically, they are in fact using the Sabbath to kill.
- It seems telling, and maybe timeless, that there is a strong human impulse to use religion to govern and control life. The spirituality of Jesus, though, is to produce life, not to control it.
Prayer for your city – Our city is famous for its ambition and pace of life. One of our church’s founding pastors called this a local “spirit of grim drivenness.” Pray that our city would discover God’s good gift of rest, that there is more to life than work and achievement.
Spiritual Exercise – This week our spiritual exercise will be listening to and meditating on the words of Jesus, letting God speak to us through them. In today’s passage, Jesus says, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” To paraphrase and modernize a bit, perhaps Jesus is saying to us, “I am in charge of everything. But my authority and ways are made for you and your flourishing.” Sit quietly and imagine Jesus speaking these words to you. What is your reaction to these words? How are they easy or hard to receive? How do they encourage or inspire you?