23 One sabbath he (that’s Jesus) was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4 Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
There is an old Andy Griffith Show in which the episode opens with all the cast sitting in church. Of course, Barney is sleeping during the sermon and Andy has to poke him in ribs to wake him up. The preacher is preaching on the virtues of sabbath keeping. How we as a society are too busy to slow down and smell the roses he says. Then the scene shifts to the cast filing out of church and telling the Reverend what a mighty fine sermon that was and how they all needed to slow down. Then Aunt Bee, Opey, Barney and Gomer are sitting on the front porch listening to Andy play the guitar. They begin to reminisce about how they used to have these quiet relaxing evenings sitting in the park listening to the town band play a concert. They start talking about all the work that would go into making that happen again, but they start to get excited and think that maybe they can get something put together that night and off they go in three different directions. Barney and Gomer are trying to fix up the band shell but there are spiders underneath and they are both afraid of spiders and it’s going to take cousin Goober with a big jack to fix the band shell. Aunt Bee calls Miss Clara and she comes over and they start trying to repair the band uniforms and Opey must stand there as the mannequin, but he can’t stand still, and the thread is too old and rotted and the uniforms stink. Andy is trying to get the band together and Floyd the barber can’t hear or keep beat and the band plays more clunkers than real notes. They all meet back at Andy’s porch completely exhausted and telling their tales of woe. They are plumb wore out just sitting there trying to catch their breath. Just then the Reverend stops by and sees them all sitting on the porch. Not knowing how tired they are from everything that has been happening he tells them that it’s so good to see them taking the day’s sermon to heart. Of course they all agree with the Reverend and as soon as he leaves they look at each other, breathe a sigh of relief and start laughing.
Sabbath keeping has been an issue for human beings ever since God rested and then told old Moses to put that sabbath rest in the 10 commandments. We all have different ideas of what keeping a sabbath looks like. For some it means sitting around and doing nothing except reading the “Good Book.” I would imagine that many of you grew up with “blue laws” regulating what could and could not be done in cities and towns on the day of rest. There is a reason why you can’t buy a car, or used to be purchase alcohol, or play cards, bars were closed and even most businesses. But the desire to make a buck has overtaken most of these blue laws. Some of us may even long for the days when Sundays are kept sacred and nothing interferes with church. Yet is still doubt if we would see much of an increase in church attendance because of our changing society. It’s not that less people believe in God or the virtues of the church but organized religion that a whole different can of worms.
Today’s gospel lesson describes a scene in which the Pharisees and Jesus are at odds with each other. The first excuse in Mark’s account has to do with sabbath keeping and then moves on to more interesting issues in which Jesus even has the audacity to claim Messiahship. The issues begin with the sabbath and keeping it according to the Law that Moses gave. We have Jesus and the disciples walking through a wheat field and as they walk the disciples pluck a few heads of grain and eat. This constitutes harvesting which is frowned upon according to the law. Now back in the day this would have been before GMO’s and the heads probably only had 4 kernels if that in a head. They would take the head off rub the wheat to get the beards off and pop them in their mouth, not enough to make a meal. They were probably just bored as they were walking along. But remember they were looking to catch Jesus and his disciples a trap had been set.
Jesus reminds them of the story that they all would have known in which David ate bread from the holiest of holies which was consecrated for only the high priest. David was running from King Saul and was desperate. Also by referring to David Jesus is comparing himself to David the great king and the prophecy of Messiah, the one to replace the great reign of King David. Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” In other words the sabbath was made for rest for the people not the rules to be lorded over the people and then he goes into the synagogue, maybe the same day maybe the next week, we just don’t know, but he meets a man with a withered hand.
The Pharisees are present again and are waiting to see what is happening, they may have even set Jesus up and invited the man to church that morning, not because they were worried about his well-being but to trap Jesus. He calls the man forward and looks at the Pharisees then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” The Pharisees were silent. This angered Jesus. The Greek word for anger is “ogre” which is spelled like ogre the beast from Shrek! This the only time Mark uses this word for anger in the entire gospel so you know Jesus is really upset.
Jesus then heals the man with a withered hand, he stretches it out and he is whole. Instead of marveling at the miracle the Pharisees had just witnessed they stop out of church and conspire with the Herodians, the people who follow Herod to kill Jesus. So, what is more important taking care of those in need or being righteous and fulfilling the Law. Before we get to angry at the Pharisees we need to understand that we too are like the Pharisees. Sometimes we put tradition ahead of plucking or healing. Sometimes our desire to be what we think is right gets in the way of loving our neighbor.
The same situation occurred in Corinth and as Paul was writing to the Corinthians in his second letter he is dealing with a controversy over who is in charge. What rules are they going to follow and who makes up the rules? Paul uses the humility card and says that we must all die to ourselves to allow Christ to work within us. We are like clay jars he says, which to us today are plastic water bottles. When we are done with them what do we do we throw them away. The people of Corinth were treating the clay jars as being more important than the souls what were inside them.
The stressors in my life this past year has not come from caring for others but in how we do things in the church. Funerals, communion, baptism, meetings being run well and efficiently; are all the things that get me cranked up it seems. I am more concerned with the traditions and of how things are supposed to go then plucking and healing. I don’t allow myself to be in the moment, to enjoy God’s presence. Maybe you find yourself the same way? Maybe we are treating the clay jars like antiques instead of the rubbish they are? Maybe we need to stop worrying about the how and why of doing things and remember the reason for our being our existence. Being able to minister in the moment to those we meet is a true gift of the Holy Spirit. We have that Spirit within us and are claimed by the one who loved us first. Let us share that love with our neighbors. Let us not worry about how we will do it and what it will look like, let’s just do it. Amen.