12 January 2016

Mark 3:1-6

“Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” (v. 4)

Psalm: Psalm 8


The theme of Sabbath observance in the previous episode in Mark's Gospel (Mark 2:23-28) is continued today's passage but it is also linked to a further example of healing that brings Jesus in to conflict with the religious and political authorities. In the earlier healing of a paralysed man who was brought to Jesus by his four friends (Mark 2:2-12), it was the way he healed him and the words that he used that led Jesus in to difficult discussions with his critics. This time it was the day he healed him on that caused the problems.

It would be hard to find even the strictest Pharisee who would object to medical intervention to save someone's life, but this story focuses on a man with a longstanding disability to his hand, not a life-threatening condition. There was no urgency to heal this man on a Sabbath; indeed there is no indication that the man asked to be healed that day or at all. It was Jesus who took the initiative when he entered the synagogue and found him amongst the congregation. Jesus deliberately provoked the situation and the subsequent conflict, and by doing so led his critics to see the potential problems that lay ahead if he continued in this way. It brought together both religious and political leaders to work together "to destroy him" (v. 6).

Whilst the focus of the passage is on the interpretation of the law, and whether it is lawful to do certain things on the Sabbath, Jesus' desire to do good, in whatever situation he finds himself, shines through. It's also clear that the blindness of others to the obvious need around them leaves him upset and angry.

The contrast between Jesus restoring the fullness of life with the Pharisees and the Herodians who plan to destroy life is stark. However it is also ironic that after making such an issue of Jesus working on the Sabbath, they themselves started to work on their plans to kill Jesus immediately, therefore also on the Sabbath, the very day they were trying to protect as holy.

To Ponder

  • Was Jesus right to deliberately provoke conflict? Why?
  • To what need is our society blind? And how should the Church respond today?
  • Is it right to get angry and show our anger? And if so, how and when?

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.