Mark 2: 23 – 28 Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

Mark 2: 23 – 28 Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’

He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’

Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’

*       *       *

At first sight, this seems a rather trivial incident, and yet it is recorded in all three of the synoptic gospels. Why do they tell us about this action of Jesus?

Let’s look at the context.

We’ve read in Mark 2: 1 – 12 how Jesus heals a paralysed man, using the words, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

In Mark 2: 13 – 17, Jesus calls Levi the tax collector to be a disciple, and he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners.

In Mark 2: 18 – 22 Jesus is challenged by Pharisees about the fact that his disciples weren’t fasting like the disciples of John the Baptist. We understood Jesus’ answer, the parable of the new wine into old wineskins, as meaning that the Pharisees, steeped in Mosaic Law, were unable to accept the new teaching of Jesus.

Taking a look beyond today’s passage, at Mark 3: 1 – 6, we see Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath. He does so in the synagogue, and directly challenges the Pharisees to say whether healing on the Sabbath is legitimate. The Pharisees’ stay silent. Their response is behind closed doors; they conspire with the Herodians to kill Jesus.

Today’s passage, then, is part of Mark’s recounting of how the teaching of Jesus gradually caused the Pharisees to be hostile.

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. Mark doesn’t tell us whether they were hungry or not, and neither does Luke, in the parallel passage (Luke 6: 1 – 5). Matthew, however, writes “His disciples were hungry…” (Matthew 12: 1 – 8). It seems very reasonable that the disciples might be hungry. They were trusting in God’s provision for an itinerant ministry, and sometimes, I’m sure, they went hungry. It won’t have been every day they were eating with tax collectors and sinners!

The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’

Picking somebody else’s corn wasn’t against the law, provided you only used your hand and not a scythe. What the disciples were doing was unlawful because their action broke the Sabbath. In a legal sense, the Pharisees were undoubtedly right. Keeping the Sabbath holy – set apart for God – was one of the ten commandments. It was one of the ways in which followers of Judaism differentiated themselves from the surrounding nations. It was fundamental.

Jesus defends the actions of his followers in two ways.

Firstly, he points to the example of David. David had been forced to flee from Saul, and he and his companions needed food. He went to the High Priest and persuaded him to give him the showbread. This had been consecrated to God, and should only have been eaten by the priests. The High Priest checked with David that his companions were ritually clean, and then allowed him to take the bread. (1 Samuel 21: 2 – 7). In making this defence, Jesus is making a claim that he is equal, or more than equal, to David, who was the greatest king the Jews had ever had.

That’s quite a claim, but the second defence of his disciples’ actions is even more startling.

Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.’

This amounts to a statement by Jesus that he has the authority to interpret when it is God’s will that the law about keeping the Sabbath may be set aside. Furthermore, he uses the form of words ‘Son of Man’, with the implication that he himself is that ‘Son of Man’.

And here we have the significance of the passage. Jesus is saying, implicitly, that he is the successor to King David, and uniquely close to God. In fact, he is presenting himself as God’s Messiah. While the statement is not blatant enough to bring an immediate charge of blasphemy from the religious establishment, the Pharisees would have understood what Jesus was hinting – and where his claims were heading.

The nature of Jesus is making itself known, and the anger of his opponents is rising.

How do I respond to this revelation? Do I accept that Jesus is more than a healer and teacher? Do I accept that he is God’s Messiah? Because if it’s true, I must acknowledge him as my Lord – and that means obeying him.

Prayer

Heavenly Father

Thank you for Jesus, the Messiah. He is my Lord. Please help me to obey him.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

Published by pennygadd51

I write. I've written many pieces of flash fiction, dozens of short stories and two novels, with a third in progress.

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