This week I am providing the Bible studies on the Methodist Church’s website. You can find it at A Word In Time. Each day this week I’ll post the daily study with the main reading.
Mark 2:23 – 3:6 (NRSVA)
Pronouncement about the Sabbath
One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 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.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’
The Man with a Withered Hand
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ 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. 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. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Psalm: Psalm 139
Growing up as a ‘chapel kid’ in the Welsh Valleys in the 1960s, it was fascinating to see the range of approaches to Sunday – the Sabbath.
Some households were incredibly strict: no TV, the vegetables were prepped on Saturday, no gardening – just chapel. Others were much less strict and went out for meals; even, horror of horrors, going dancing!
If I want to claim any kind of sporting success I could say that I turned down a trial with Bristol Rovers as a teenager. The truth is that they invited the whole club I played for to Bristol for a mass run-out. I couldn’t go because it was a Sunday and my parents expected me to be at worship.
The two incidents in today’s passage – disciples picking heads of grain and the healing of a man – are part of Mark’s Gospel building up the opposition towards Jesus. Mark chapter 2 is a series of stories that show how Jesus’ actions persuaded his opponents they needed to act against him.
Both of today’s incidents are Sabbath stories. The Pharisees would have been hot on anything they could pin on him. While it’s the disciples who are at fault in the first story, Jesus is blamed for their actions. As their Rabbi, Jesus seems not just willing to accept that but positively eager to take on the Pharisees’ challenge and turn the story into a theological joust.
Suddenly it’s the Pharisees who are made to look out of step. It is as if Jesus is saying to them, “Don’t you know our story? Don’t you remember what (King) David did? How can you be so petty?”
For the Pharisees, the Sabbath is something to be marked by obeying the rules. For Jesus, it was something joyful to bless people as they honoured God. It was a time for re-creation in the presence of their creator.
Then Jesus points to himself as Lord of the Sabbath, but do the Pharisees understand his enigmatic description of the Son of Man?
- How can you honour the Sabbath in a 24/7 culture?
- Is a Sabbath truly possible anymore? What do you think could be done to restore some sense of the Sabbath?
- Should Christians push for Sunday to be a no-shopping day? Why?