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02 January 2019

Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-3:6)

The Son of Man
The Gospel of Mark records an account where Jewish religious leaders objected to Christ's looseness towards their institutional Sabbath regulations. He used the opportunity to demonstrate that the Messiah is "Lord" even over the Sabbath day.
Genesis speaks of God ceasing from his creative activities on the seventh day but the formal establishment of the Sabbath as a regulated day was not until the Mosaic Law.
The disciples were walking on the Sabbath.  It was forbidden to journey on the Sabbath more than a short distance, the so-called “Sabbath day’s journey.”  How far the disciples walked is not stated. By the time of Jesus, the traditional regulation specified travel of no more than 1,999 paces on the Sabbath, approximately eight hundred meters.
The disciples were plucking ears of grain and rubbing them in their hands to separate the grain from the chaff. This was considered “reaping and winnowing” in the eyes of the Pharisees, work activities prohibited on the Sabbath.
(Mark 2:23-3:6) - “And it came to pass, that he on the Sabbath was passing through the cornfields, and his disciples began to be going forward, plucking the ears of corn. And the Pharisees were saying—See! why are they doing, on the Sabbath, what is not allowed? And he saith unto them—Have ye never read what David did when he had need and hungered,—he and they who were with him: how he entered into the house of God, while Abiathar was High-priest, and the presence-bread did eat,—which it is not allowed to eat, save unto the priests,—and gave unto them also who were with him? And he was saying unto them—The Sabbath for man was made, and not man for the Sabbath: So that the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. And he entered again into a synagogue, and there-was there a man having his hand withered and they were narrowly watching him, whether, on the Sabbath, he would cure him, that they might accuse him. And he saith unto the man who hath his hand withered, Arise into the midst! and saith unto them—Is it allowed, on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil? To save life or to slay? but they remained silent. And, looking round upon them with anger, being at the same time grieved on account of the hardening of their heart, he saith unto the man—Stretch forth thy hand! and he stretched it forth, and his hand, was restored. And the Pharisees, going out straightway with the Herodians; were giving counsel against him, that they should destroy him” [source: The Emphasized Bible]
It was permissible for anyone passing through a grain field to pick grain by hand for immediate personal consumption (Deuteronomy 23:25). The Pharisees objected not to a violation of property rights or theft, but because the disciples were doing this on the Sabbath.
In the Torah, harvesting by sickle was forbidden on the Sabbath. By Christ’s time, rigorist groups like as the Pharisees had evolved the Law’s Sabbath regulations into an extensive and minute set of rules. Picking a few ears of grain by hand became defined as “reaping.”
Jesus responds with a counter-question from the life of David (1 Samuel 21:1-6). David and his men were living an outlaw existence. One day, they were famished. The story referred to the “show-bread” or the “bread of the presence,” twelve loaves of sanctified bread placed before the “presence” of the Lord in the Tabernacle each week on the Sabbath day. Only priests could eat this bread lawfully.
The circumstances from David’s story were not precisely parallel to those of Jesus and his disciples. The disciples were not in a state of physical distress. Jesus did not cite David’s violation of Torah regulation as an excuse but as a precedent. Since Jesus was the Greater David and the true King of Israel, if that which is holy (the show-bread) was set aside for David, how much more appropriate was it to set aside that which is holy for the Greater David?
Jesus’ statement, “the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” was quite appropriate. In their zeal to obey the law, some had forgotten the purpose of the Law: to do good to mankind. As a day of rest and worship, God did not intend that a man or woman be deprived of the necessities of life. The Sabbath was for mankind’s well-being. Even slaves and animals were allowed rest on the Sabbath. “The Sabbath was for the sake of man, not man for the sake of the Sabbath.”
Since the Sabbath was made for man’s benefits, it follows that the “Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” because he is the designated representative and ruler of Israel. In the Greek sentence “Lord” is emphatic. The construction is unusual and designed to emphasize the point: Jesus’ authority as “Son of Man” and “Lord.” Literally, it reads: “consequently, Lord is the Son of Man of the Sabbath.”
Matthew adds: “or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath, and are innocent? But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.”
Sabbath restrictions were not absolute. Temple priests engaged in “work” on the Sabbath and other feast days to fulfill their priestly duties. The priests performed their work in the Temple. Jesus, the Son of Man, was something “greater than the Temple.” If priests were allowed to violate the Sabbath in the Temple, and Jesus was greater than the Temple, then how could he be restricted in his work by Sabbath regulations?
Parallel passages to Mark 3:1-6 are found in Matthew 12:9-13 and Luke 6:6-11. The latter passage adds, “but they themselves were filled with rage and discussed together what they might do to Jesus. And it was at this time that he went off to the mountain to pray and he spent the whole night in prayer to God.”
The event in the next paragraph took place in a synagogue. This setting is integral to the story. Certain Jews “were watching him” while he was in the synagogue. Luke identifies them as “Scribes and Pharisees.”
The Greek verb for “accuse” is a legal term for bringing a charge against someone in a court of law. Note the irony: they denied Jesus the right to perform good deeds on the Sabbath while they conspired on the same Sabbath to commit evil.
When Jesus asked, “is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill,” a link is made with the preceding story by his declaration, “the Sabbath was made for the sake of man.” Like the Sabbath, the Law of Moses was intended to bring good to humanity, not evil.
The first part of the question refers to what Jesus intended to do for the man with the withered hand; good, not evil. Not to restore his hand would be tantamount to doing evil. The second half of the question (“to save life or to kill”) refers to what his opponents were plotting: to destroy Jesus.
Healing on the Sabbath was forbidden but by this time there was an accepted exception: it was permissible to heal if life was at stake. In this case, the man’s life was not at risk; he would come to no harm if Jesus waited until evening to restore his hand. But Jesus refused to draw a narrow distinction between saving lives and restoring life to wholeness. To delay healing for even a few hours was to deny the Law’s intent.
A deformed person was not allowed to enter the Temple and, thus, could not be a full member of God’s covenant community (Leviticus 21:16). The task of restoring this man to the covenant people was paramount and not to be delayed.
Christ’s actions answer his question: not only is it permissible to heal and do good on the Sabbath, but it is also right to do so. The narrow attitude of his opponents leads to the destruction of life.
They kept silent.” Perhaps Jesus paused for some moments as their silence persisted. It states that they “hardened their hearts.” In this society, the heart was believed to be the seat of the intellect. This statement points to a defect in their basic thought process, not to momentary emotions.
Mark does not state that the withered hand was “healed” or “cleansed,” but instead “restored.” This points to his restoration as a full member of the people of Israel, one entitled to enter the Temple and, otherwise, to participate in the nation’s worship life.
The word used for Christ’s “anger” is orgé, a noun used for the “wrath” of God. This is the only place in any of the four gospels where this word is applied to Jesus. Perhaps it highlights the kind of thing that would cause Jesus to become indignant. Verse 1 provides a clue as to his anger: “and he entered again into the synagogue.” This is the same synagogue where Jesus earlier delivered a man from a demon (Mark 1:21). Some of his audience already had heard his teaching and witnessed his healings. But their hearts remained hardened to what God was doing in their midst.
Mark clarifies who the opponents were: Pharisees. He also introduces a new group, the Herodians, a group mentioned once more in Mark 12:13. Herodians were Jewish partisans that supported Herod Antipas. The Pharisees were political enemies of Herod and unlikely allies of the Herodians. And the Pharisees were devout adherents of the Law of Moses, unlike the Herodians. They viewed the Herodians as compromisers and collaborators with an apostate regime. That the two groups allied to destroy Jesus demonstrates just how much they hated him.
This story is a major turning point in Christ’s ministry in the gospel of Mark. The reaction of his opponents to this healing on the Sabbath transformed them from critics to conspirators in a plot to destroy Jesus (cp. Mark 11:18; 15:1).
Mark does not give precise reasons why the Pharisees and Herodians began at this time to plot Christ’s death. However, this and the preceding story provide several clues:
1.    Sabbath violation.
2.   Fraternizing with sinners.
3.   Disregarding customs and regulations from oral traditions.
4.   The presumption of Jesus of the authority to forgive sins.
Later, Jesus will be accused of casting out demons by Satan, a charge he will categorize as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” an unpardonable sin. The present hardening of hearts and plots to destroy him anticipate what Jesus means by “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

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