In the lesson today, Jesus refers, in a brief summary form, to a story about David when he asked the priest for the ‘bread of Presence’ (1 Samuel 21:1-6). Mark’s version adds one thing not in Samuel—that David brought his young men with him and they were hungry. This addition fits with Mark’s story since Jesus was with his ‘young men’ (disciples). The ‘bread of the Presence’ refers to the bread that was daily placed in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) as a reminder of the ‘bread’ (manna) with which God fed the Israelites in their wilderness journey from Egypt to Canaan. It was eaten only by priests when it was replaced with fresh bread the next day. This allusion to the Old Testament story reminds us that the mission (death and resurrection) of Jesus is “in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3 where ‘scriptures’ refers to the OT only); not a few isolated texts, but the whole of the Old Testament.
Prepare to listen. Sit still, take a few deep breaths then pray: Lord God, open my ears and let me hear your words today. Amen.
Read Mark 2:23-28
23One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ 25And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He 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.’ 27Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’
The story begins with a vague “one sabbath,” reminding us that Mark wasn’t concerned with a literally correct order of events in Jesus’ life. However, this isn’t a random assortment of stories either. They are linked together by the conflict between Jesus and the religious rulers who question Jesus in an unfriendly manner. In today’s lesson the Pharisees attack Jesus for allowing his disciples to ‘work’ on the sabbath by plucking ears of grain for food. While the Mosaic Law permitted travelers to pluck a few ears of grain from the fields as they walked passed (see Deuteronomy 23:25), it was considered ‘work’ by the religious rulers of Jesus’ day and prohibited on the sabbath.
Jesus responded to them with a story from David when he was on the run from Saul, prior to becoming king. The implication seems to be that David, with his followers, was on an important mission and ‘commandeered’ the holy bread reserved for priests. There are similarities with Jesus’ story. He too was with his followers and on an important mission. He had the same right (in fact even more so) as David to ‘commandeer’ grain (bread) on a holy day. In doing so, Jesus exercised an authority inaccessible to the religious rulers who confronted and accused him. They realized this and weren’t happy with Jesus! To make matters worse, Jesus claimed to have power over the Sabbath, stating that he (the Son of Man) “is lord even of the sabbath.”
The Pharisees did what many do today, let their legalistic adherence to the rules and regulations control them and dictate their relations with others. This made them incapable of accepting people who broke the rules, and incapable of showing mercy to those couldn’t keep their rules in the same strict sense they did. Today, we have our own rules and regulations about different issues—sexual orientation, theological beliefs and standards, conservative/liberal agendas, etc. The question we must ask ourselves is this: Does our adherence to our views and principles control us or do we control them? Are we able to ignore our ‘rules’ and show mercy to one who is not able to keep them in the same way we can? Can we live the truth that “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath?” And remember that “the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath?”
Sabbath keeping may not be an issue you insist on keeping. Substitute whatever your issue may be (gender orientation, abortion, political position, moral principle) and then say: Jesus is Lord even of that issue (name it).
Matthew, in his similar account, includes a saying that Jesus adapted from Hosea (6:6): “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Mt 12:7). Rigidity to the laws makes a person hard and unmerciful. In what ways can you be merciful and compassionate to those who don’t keep the ‘law’ your way or who have moral and political opinions that conflict with yours?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Lord of the Sabbath, show me where I’m rigid, where I’ve fallen into the same trap as the Pharisees, and help me be more flexible and thus more merciful and compassionate to others today. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world following the ‘lord of the Sabbath.’