As we saw yesterday, the Pharisees took issue with the disciples eating. In today’s passage, they’ll object them eating again, but this time because of the day of the week.
The Sabbath Was Made For Man
Grazing On The Sabbath
Jesus’ response to the issue of fasting struck at the Pharisees’ self-righteous religious standards. In this next conflict, they debate the Sabbath, a statute far more important than voluntary fasting. The stakes are raised again.
We should note that the disciples picking heads of grain and eating them wasn’t illegal. Farmers left the edges and corners of fields for the poor and those passing by as the Law required (Leviticus 19:9, 23:22). The Pharisees’ complaint is that they are doing so on the Sabbath. They view their actions as reaping and winnowing (according to their traditions) and therefore work, breaking the Sabbath law to rest.
Jesus answers their complaint with scripture, pointing to the story of David in 1 Samuel 21:1–6. Surprisingly, David did break the Law. Yet he wasn’t condemned for it, which supports Jesus’ point in verse 27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Human need trumps rules and regulations.
He could have left the argument there but Jesus makes a greater point: “So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath” (v. 28). Which begs the question, if the Lord instituted the Sabbath, who does that make Jesus?
To Do Good Or Evil
The conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees has reached an all time high. In 3:2 we learn the religious leaders are looking for a way to bring Jesus down. On another Sabbath, the two parties meet in the synagogue.
Jesus understood exactly what the Pharisees schemed. He refused to play their game, calling the man with the shriveled hand front and center. Mark holds back any details about the man because his focus stays on the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. But we should note that, in an agrarian society, his condition likely left him unable to work. Nothing about his condition was minor.
Before healing the man, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for how twisted their understanding of God’s will has become. “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” He asks (3:4). They have no response.
At this point in the story, Mark pauses to capture Jesus’ emotion. In verse 5, we read that He was angry and that He grieved. Jesus grieved for the Pharisees’ hard hearts. He wanted them to understand and repent. But they didn’t.
The man obeys Jesus’ command, stretching out his now-healed hand. The Pharisees are blind to the miracle that has occurred in front of them. Mark says they left “immediately.” They are so concerned with breaking their own traditions that they don’t hesitate to plan a murder, breaking one of the Ten Commandments. They are so intent on their plan that they team up with their political enemy, the Herodians.
Jesus knew that by healing the man, the Pharisees would seek to kill him. He did so anyway.
In what ways are we prone to placing rules and regulations above human need? What do these stories reveal to us about who Jesus is?
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