22 February 2013

Mark 3:1-6

"Then he said to them, 'Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?'" (v. 4)


The fourth commandment was treated seriously under Mosaic law - "whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death" (Exodus 31:15) (cf Numbers 15:32-36). So, if Jesus were to breach the rules of Sabbath observance, his opponents would be able to bring charges against him.

Healing was seen as work. The exception was in cases of danger to life, which was hardly the case here. Jesus seems to be expanding the concept of saving life to include healing and enhancing life. Immediately prior to this passage there is this verse, "the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (Mark 2:28) and the Gospel writer intends this episode to be read in the light of that.

Again we have the conflict between those who feel that the way to a right relationship with God is through obeying God's law, and Jesus, who is more concerned with the man's need and with getting on with the task of bringing in the kingdom of God. Jesus' radical approach threatens cherished customs and the authority and power of the religious authorities. The Pharisees, with their concern for the strict implementation of the law, and the supporters of Herod, who don't want revolutionary ideas, clearly see Jesus as a threat to be removed.

This passage follows the incident of the disciples picking ears of corn on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28), when Jesus declared, "The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath" (v. 27). A weekly break from work was a gift, not an imposition. Body, mind and spirit all benefit from a period of rest and recreation. Having a set period of rest can mean that people consciously set that time aside, spend time together as families, as well as on spiritual activities which remind them of the purpose of life. If too many activities are forbidden or discouraged, it becomes an imposition, and then the Sabbath can be boring for many people. This has led to a reaction in our day, and much has been lost in the process, with many feeling themselves to be on a purposeless treadmill, needing to grab what pleasure and solace they can, wherever they can.

To Ponder

  • How can you ensure that you take sufficient time out for rest, recreation and spiritual renewal?
  • How well do your church services and activities fit in with "the Sabbath was made for humankind"?
  • What spiritual provision can we make for those people who have to work on a Sunday or have other important commitments then?
  • How do you react to the accusation that Christians are 'finger-wagging killjoys'?

Bible notes author

Philip Sudworth

Philip has retired from a career in the education service. He is now kept busy by voluntary work with local children's charities.