One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain.
The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?”
And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 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.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 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. 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. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.
Greetings to you and peace from God our Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Abiding Holy Spirit.
These two little stories in Mark give us the chance to consider what our relationship is to the law. Now I am using law in the broadest sense. Law is something that is part of creation to provide order, health, and meaning. There are many things that serve as law in our lives - natural laws like gravity, traditions, rituals, civic law, manners, morality, protocol, culture and on and on it goes. And all of these things are good because God created them either directly or through our existence so that we can have order, health, and meaning in our lives. These laws make our very lives possible. They come together so that we can breathe, that we can talk and walk, that we can communicate, create poetry, make sense of the world we live in.
The two little stories in Mark consider how to properly observe the Sabbath. In Jesus’ time the Jews had very precise rules of things that you could do on the Sabbath and, more importantly, things you could not do.
In the first story Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grain field. His disciples pluck some of the grain, presumably to eat, and the Pharisees accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus was accountable for what his disciples did because he directed their actions; he was their teacher. Jesus brings up the plain fact that his disciples are hungry, and the Sabbath was made for humanity and not the other way around. The Sabbath was created to meet needs, not to aggravate them.
In the second story Jesus meets a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees are waiting to see what he is going to do. Jesus gets angry at them. This is the only time in all the gospels that Jesus is described as angry. Here they have a man who needs help and they are paralyzed by their desire to keep the Sabbath to the letter of the law that they will not help him. Jesus saw them and was angry as their hard hearts. Jesus healed the man with the withered hand.
In both stories when the Pharisees question Jesus’ dedication to the law, Jesus notices people’s needs. He notices his disciples hunger, and he notices the pain the man’s hand brings him, whether physical or emotional. Jesus notices people. He notices their need for care or nourishment and responds.
Here’s the tension that we as Christians have to live with. Every day our lives are governed by laws - rituals, traditions, natural law, manners, civic law. These laws are good. They give necessary structure to our lives. Even the practice and expression of Christianity itself is a whole set and series of laws - the church seasons, the books that compose the Bible, when we sing certain hymns and when we don’t, having a church council, voting on calling a pastor. All of this is good and necessary so that we can gather together around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. So that we can remember and join in his story. But Jesus shows us that we have to keep our eye on the people these laws and protocols and traditions are supposed to serve. The Sabbath was created for humanity, but Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.
Jesus, as the second person in the Trinity, is not only gracious in giving us law so that we can have order, health, and meaning in our lives; Jesus is also gracious that laws can change. They are not forever. Because what is forever is Jesus’ love and care for humanity. The structure that expresses that love needs to change from time to time so that the love can continue to be shown. Jesus doesn’t break the laws in these two stories. He doesn’t do away with the law. We still need it. We still encourage ourselves to keep a Sabbath day. Instead, Jesus disturbs the law. He disturbs the law within the Pharisees. Some synonyms for the word disturb - amaze, annoy, complicate, confuse, excite, frighten, vex, worry. He disturbs the law, and since we are creatures that need law, many times Jesus disturbs us too. It would be disturbing to see a man you had known all your life with a useless hand, stretch it out into the light to see that it was strong and functional.
One reason I love being in campus ministry is there are few other places in our lives that we take being disturbed by the law so seriously. I am honored that I get to walk with these students as they have to face the realities of our world thoughtfully - race, gender, happiness, poverty, innovation, tradition, sustainability, and on and on it goes. Another reason I love being a part of our campus ministry in St. Cloud is because my students and I have the opportunity to disturb the law and ask, “Does this practice serve the development or maintenance of my faith or my faith community? Could we do this a different way so that my faith makes more sense in my day to day life?” Especially in our case since we are a campus ministry without a building. Our ministry was reborn asking the question does a church need a building to be a church? How much of our community gathering can be done online and how much do we yearn for face-to-face gathering time? How do you worship without musicians? We learn by being disturbed. Disruption encourages questions. Good questions lead us back to Jesus.
Now as you all go back out into the world - and I have to be honest here - for me, it feels like a big, futile, burdensome mess of a world right now. Our country, our schools, our churches are all having all sorts of conversations about how well our laws are serving the people they should serve. Do not get sucked into the catchphrases or the buzzy hashtags. Keep your eye on the people. Listen to their stories. See their needs. Be disturbed. When you see the law disturbed or feel the law disturbed within yourself, I hope you also see Jesus. I hope you see Jesus’ grace and love winding its way into our reality and giving us the chance for renewal and healing. Amen.