Meditation on Mark 2:23-3:6
June 3, 2018
Merritt Island Presbyterian Church
23 One sabbath he 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.
My husband and I have had more quality time together lately. Ever since I turned, twisted and lifted–and felt this sudden throbbing pain in my neck, shoulder and upper back.
We make small talk and listen to the radio when he drives me to and from my doctor’s appointments. Some weeks, I have had as many as 5 appointments! He drives me to church sometimes, too, and goes with me or waits while I visit members who are sick, in the hospital, rehab or nursing homes.
After my doctor appointments or before my visits, we might go out for breakfast or lunch or a cup of frozen yogurt. One time, after my doctor’s appointment, we spontaneously went to a movie! We never used to do things like that!
We have had some adventures with wildlife going to and from my doctor appointments. On the way to physical therapy one day, a crane raced by us in the parking lot.
He or she was headed in the direction of a lawyer’s office, but then seemed to think better of it, turned and ran toward a pond. On the way home from the doctor Friday, Jim saw a turtle crossing the road, so he stopped the car and carried him to safety.
Later, I discovered that the turtle we rescued was a Florida softshell, a particularly aggressive breed that you probably shouldn’t pick up.
Every morning, Jim greets me with a smile, though he is tired after getting up to take care of the cat, who starts whining around 5:30 or 6 a.m. He lets me sleep in, if I can, because he knows I have trouble sleeping because of my neck.
“Good morning,” he says. “What can I bring you?”
He comes with ice packs; cold, fuzzy neck wraps; cold water, and hot tea with honey.
When the pain was really bad, he would put his hand behind my neck and help me sit up.
One Monday about 2 weeks ago, I woke up not being able to talk! The doctor put me on Prednisone and “total voice rest.” Wow, that was hard! But Jim and I had more quality time–with me working from home. After sitting quietly next to me for a while reading, he said, “I’ve had such peace being home with you lately.”
I whispered, “It’s because I haven’t been talking.” We laughed.
I felt the same peace and knew that it was from God. It was a gift of the Spirit– God letting us know, “I hear your prayers and I know you are hurting. But you are healing. And I love you. And I am still with you. My grace is all you need!”
When I read our gospel lesson this week and thought about Jesus healing the man with the withered hand, I wondered, “Why did he pick him?” and “Why did he do it on the Sabbath, when he knew it would make the Pharisees mad?”
And then I realized…oh…… that was his intention.
This healing is different than when a leper came to him earlier in Mark, begging and kneeling, saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Jesus is “moved with pity” and he stretches out his hand and touches him, saying, “I do choose. Be made clean!”
The man with the withered hand didn’t ask to be healed. We don’t know if he was in any pain. He doesn’t speak at all. But Jesus knows the man’s need; he would be poor and marginalized from his community, which would believe God had cursed the man with a withered hand because of his or his parents’ sins.
The main reason for the healing, though, is that Christ wants to confront wrong attitudes and beliefs about the Sabbath. He first challenges them when his disciples pluck heads of grain as they walk through a field, perhaps that same day, since the stories are back to back. They ask Jesus, “Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
It’s not clear in Scripture that this isn’t lawful. Deuteronomy 23:25 says that one can pluck grain by hand, but not with a sickle. Jesus replies with an example from Scripture that isn’t entirely accurate or in the same context. He asks if the Pharisees have read about David entering the house of God when they were hungry and eating the bread of the Presence that only priests are allowed to eat, and giving it to his companions. David doesn’t actually enter the house of God; the priest is Ahimelech–not Abiathar; and David is alone; he has no companions with him.
Biblical scholars don’t know what to make of Jesus’ response, when he misquotes Scripture. The consensus is that Jesus is revealing to his readers how the Pharisees, who are so worried about everyone else keeping the law, are ignorant of what Scripture really says. They don’t know what they are talking about. And their hearts are not in the right place! Their lives fail to demonstrate their love for God and neighbor –which, Jesus will say to his disciples, is the sum of all the commandments.
Jesus says to the Pharisees who question his disciples plucking grain, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” He is asking God’s people to see the law as God’s gift to them for their spiritual, physical and emotional wellbeing, rather than a measuring stick to judge and condemn. Jesus stirs the wrath of the Pharisees even more when he claims a higher authority than them, saying, “so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Before he heals the man with the withered hand, Jesus asks those assembled, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” The room is silent. They know that saving the life of a human being or animal on the Sabbath is the exception to the rule of “rest.” But they are afraid of the Pharisees.
Notice this is one of the few times in the Bible that Jesus gets angry and is grieved “at the hardness of their hearts.” Both times that he is angry involves what is going on in the House of God–how God’s people are being taken advantage of or being persecuted. Remember when he cleanses the temple, turning over the tables of those selling animals to sacrifice?
Jesus says to the man, “Stretch out your hand,”—and he does! And is healed.
And the Pharisees conspire with the Herodians to kill him.
I can honestly say I have learned a lot in these past few months. I will never again take for granted a pain-free existence. I am grateful for all of my good days, when I feel almost normal again and can lift my arms, nod my head, and turn my neck to the right and the left. I have learned the healing power of laughter and being present with people you love. And I am learning the importance of rest, especially Sabbath rest, a gift from a loving Lord.
I have learned to ask for help when I need it, and to receive it joyfully. I am still impatient with my body and get frustrated at times. But I am learning to persevere in hope, trusting the Lord will lead me in this journey to healing.
For the Lord knows our needs, just as he knew the needs of the man with the withered hand, without him saying a word.
God knows your hurts, even if you haven’t told Him. The Lord wants to carry your burdens, if only you would give them to him.
Christ’s peace lives inside you, a peace that surpasses human understanding, a peace that makes you whole and is meant to be shared with others.
God says, “I hear your prayers. I love you. I am still with you.”
And, “My grace is all you need.”
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, thank you for loving us and for giving up your Son so that we would be reconciled with you and one another. Lord, we know you are listening now to our prayers and that you know our hurts, even the ones we haven’t told you about. We ask that heal us and make us whole. Give us your peace and strength when we encounter trials and suffering. Give us soft, loving hearts that desire to please you and obey your Word. Keep us from becoming legalistic and judgmental. Remind us that your Sabbath is a gift and that we need your Sabbath rest for the health of body, mind and spirit and the peace and wellbeing of the faith community. In Christ we pray. Amen.