BREAKING NEWS! Father Riley will lead us in Holy Eucharist again this coming Sunday, June 10, 2018. Please join us for the 10am service and the fellowship time following the service.
2 PENTECOST, PROPER 4 - B - 18 MARK 2. 23-3.6
“On the Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields…” Today’s passage always brings to mind two things from my past. I lived in Iowa for 7 years. And you haven’t seen cornfields until you have been to Iowa!
Oh, we have them around here too, but up there they stretch for miles as far as the eye can see. I am sure many of you have seen the movie “Field of Dreams” that was made in Iowa. In it a man walking through the cornfields quickly disappears from sight.
Obviously the Pharisees in today’s gospel must have been walking next to Jesus and his disciples in order to observe them plucking the heads of grain and eating them. They were hungry. The Pharisees criticize Jesus for their leniency in the application of Sabbath law.
The Torah explicitly prohibits “labor” on the Sabbath. Courts do not meet. Shops are closed. There is no buying or selling. No labor is to be performed although the law does not define “labor. “ And that brings me to my second thought about today’s passage.
Several years ago now I was fortunate enough to be in Jerusalem with our then Bishop McPherson. We were attending a Gafcon conference together made up of leaders from around the Anglican Communion. Our return flight out of Telav was due to depart on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
There are still areas of Israel today where the Sabbath is strictly kept. Our hotel for instance stopped running the elevators on the Sabbath. We had to walk down several fights of stairs with baggage in hand. We arrived at the airport mid-afternoon, although our flight was not scheduled to depart until around 7p.m.
The Bishop, you see, was afraid we might miss it! Thus, we left too early to have lunch. None of the shops were open in the airport. There was no place to get a bite to eat or anything to drink. The Jewish Sabbath runs from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.
We simply had to wait until Sabbath had ended before we could buy anything to eat. If there had been grain fields nearby we would have been seen plucking the heads, I assure you!
Keeping the Sabbath was, of course, one of the Ten Commandments, and it had been reinforced by the prophets and by subsequent Jewish teaching prior to Jesus’ coming on the scene. It was one of the things that marked out the Jews, over the centuries from their pagan neighbors.
It was one of the things that reminded them, that they were God’s people. It was a sign that they belonged to the One True God, the creator of heaven and earth, who had himself rested on the seventh day. The observance of the Sabbath had been for Israel a remembering, a bringing into the present the Exodus story.
It was not a nostalgic ritual, but a command to remember that God had loved Israel enough to bring the people to freedom. To keep the Commandment was to celebrate in remembrance God’s creation and redemption, past, present and future.
In a way, the Pharisees had forgotten to remember this in their criticizing Jesus’ disciples. They had forgotten the point and priority of the Sabbath. Israel’s memory had faded into laws and rules. Jesus’ response reminded them that God is concerned for all our needs, not our rules.
Even David ate the Bread of the Presence, Jesus reminded them, when hungry and in need. Jesus’ response from a biblical story was intended to prove that the permission he granted to his disciples was within the bounds of the biblical laws of Sabbath rest.
However, Christ did not stop there. Jesus puts the question to the Pharisees in the strictest terms: if the Sabbath speaks of creation and redemption, the answer is obvious.
“The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath,” and he added, “so that the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
What Jesus is saying here is that the Sabbath must serve human need. The Pharisees used this principal only in response to danger to human life. In healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath, Jesus extends the principal to apply to a situation of human discomfort.
Since the Son of Man has been made Lord of the Sabbath, the Father has granted to the Son complete dominion over the earth, including dominion over the divinely ordained commandments of scripture. As the Son of Man interprets the law, so shall it be.
The resurrection on Easter morning was the fulfillment of the Sabbath. Jesus’ actions and his explanation, were a coded messianic claim, a claim that in Him the new day was dawning in which even Israel’s God-given laws would be seen in a new light.
God knows our need and our hunger. But do we? The Pharisees memory had faded to the point that the rule mattered more than reality. Our priorities must not be idols, which we worship, or laws, which we contrive and control. We must know our need of God.
He feeds us with the real bread of heaven, which is Christ Jesus Our Lord. In the wilderness of perplexity or affliction, it is God who rescues us. In the midst of perplexity, we do not despair. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, for “we carry the death of Jesus in our bodies so that the life of Jesus may be made manifest in us.”
That is the greater Truth; that in the midst of darkness, we are assured of God’s faithfulness. Laws can never be ends within themselves, but only means to a greater Truth. God’s priority is to Love us. It is our priority to love God.
To love God is to keep His commandments. It marks us out from the rest of the world. Obedience is one way in which we show our love for God in Thanksgiving for His love for us manifested in His having rescued us from sin and death through the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus, the Lord God of Sabbaoth. AMEN+