11 January 2016

Mark 2:23-28

“So the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (v. 28)

Psalm: Psalm 7:1-11


These are early days in Jesus' ministry but he was already challenging the accepted norms. Doing work on the Sabbath was forbidden and so it's surprising that the disciples would have broken the well-known rules without Jesus prompting them to. It's perhaps also surprising that the Pharisees were hanging around a cornfield on the Sabbath and didn't have better things to do. This suggests, then, that this wasn't just a description of an interesting historical episode, but was a story with a deeper meaning for those who would be listening.

Yesterday's passage focused on the links between John the Baptist and Jesus. Mark's Gospel begins with the words of John the Baptist quoting the prophet Isaiah, saying his role was to, "prepare the way of the Lord" (Mark 1:3). Today we have echoes of that theme in the language used to describe the disciples making their way through the cornfields. The verb translated "made their way" (v. 23) means literally "to make or build a road", and it's possible that Mark uses this deliberately to link to John's mission. Later in the Gospel the same word is used of the road to Jerusalem and the path of discipleship (Mark 10:32, 52), suggesting that the setting of this story in a cornfield is no incidental element but a pointer to what is to come.

The conflict about the use of the Sabbath would also resonate with the early Christians who may have already been in dispute about the Jewish pattern of Sabbath observance, particularly if they came from a Gentile or non-Jewish background and worked on a Saturday. Those with this heritage would have taken heart from the words of Jesus suggesting that they did not need to stick to the strict interpretation of these Jewish laws as they developed their own tradition of worshipping on a Sunday.

The reference to David and his men (verses 25-26) not only provides more backing for Jesus' position that the Pharisees are over-interpreting the law with an unnecessary and unhelpful authoritarianism, but also provides a link and comparison between David and Jesus. Just as the popular John the Baptist gave support and credibility to this new Galilean preacher, equating King David and his men with Jesus and his disciples would also have given a strong message that a new king had arrived.

To Ponder

  • Are there traditions of the Church that you find unhelpful or provide a barrier between you and Jesus? What are they?
  • Are there traditions of the Church that have been lost but which you think would help us to connect better with Jesus? Again what are they? And how might you reintroduce them?
  • Those who want to "Keep Sunday Special" are often portrayed as out-of-date traditionalists, and yet many trade unions want to retain restrictions on extending shopping hours on a Sunday. What should we do, and not do, on a Sunday? 

Bible notes author

Dr Richard Vautrey

Richard Vautrey is a local preacher and church steward in Leeds, and a former vice-president of the Methodist Conference. He works as a GP, is an elected member of both the BMA council and Royal College of GPs council as well as being the deputy chair of the BMA's GP committee.