A Question about the Sabbath
(Mark 2.23-28; Luke 6.1-5)
1 One Sabbath, Jesus and his disciples were walking through some wheat fields. His disciples were hungry and began picking and eating grains of wheat. 2Some Pharisees noticed this and said to Jesus, “Why are your disciples picking grain on the Sabbath? They are not supposed to do this!”
3 Jesus answered:
You surely must have read what David did when he and his followers were hungry. 4 He went into the house of God, and then they ate the sacred loaves of bread that only priests are supposed to eat. 5 Haven't you read in the Law of Moses that the priests are allowed to work in the temple on the Sabbath? But no one says they are guilty of breaking the law of the Sabbath. 6I tell you there is something here greater than the temple. 7 Don't you know what the Scriptures mean when they say, “Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others?” If you knew what this means, you would not condemn these innocent disciples of mine. 8So the Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath.
A Man with a Paralyzed Hand
(Mark 3.1-6; Luke 6.6-11)
9Jesus left and went into one of their synagogues, 10where there was a man whose hand was paralyzed. Some Pharisees wanted to accuse Jesus of doing something wrong, so they asked him, “Is it right to heal someone on the Sabbath?”
11 Jesus answered, “If one of your sheep fell into a ditch on the Sabbath, wouldn't you lift it out? 12People are worth much more than sheep, and so it is right to do good on the Sabbath.” 13Then Jesus told the man, “Hold out your hand.” The man did, and it became as healthy as the other one.
14The Pharisees left and started making plans to kill Jesus.
I remember a story a former pastor of mine once told about a local department store prank. It seems that someone had broken into the store and, though they hadn’t stolen anything, had randomly gone throughout the store switching the price tags so that they no longer had any correlation between price and value. A generic baseball cap was priced at $999.99 while a luxury suit was priced at $4.99. His point was that we live in a world of misplaced value. That could certainly be said of the Pharisees in this passage.
For the Jews of Jesus’ day there were three identity markers that helped them know who they were and what their place in the world was: Torah, Temple, and Sabbath. In this passage Jesus not only tramples on each of them, but reframes them in a way that shows that the Pharisees had lost the point. They were rightly concerned with showing themselves to be God’s people, yet their concerns about law keeping, Sabbath observances, and temple privilege had become distorted. This was not a new thing, the prophets indicated that it was an all too familiar problem.
Jesus said that God wanted his people to be concerned with mercy, love and compassion. Had the Pharisees understood God’s heart, they would have taken no offense at Jesus. But, how much do we resemble the Pharisees at this very point? Have we been consumed with rules while failing to be merciful, loving, or compassionate?
Gracious God, I invite your Spirit to open my eyes so that I may see ways in which I, like your children before me, exchange what is most important to you for what is most important to me. Give me the courage to display what is most important to you. Amen.