No snacking – Tuesday, Memorial of St Anthony the Abbott – Mark 2:23-28
Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Mark begins with five controversy narratives. Our text of today highlights the fourth controversy, this time with the Pharisees. Earlier in 2:1-12 he had a run in with the scribes. In Mark 2:13-17 it was the scribes of the Pharisees who objected to Jesus’ dining with sinners and tax collectors. In 2: 18-22 it was the disciples of John the Baptist and the Pharisees who got together to targets Jesus on the issue of fasting and now we have the Pharisees who take umbrage with Our Lord.
More than the miracles of Jesus, it was the statements that he uttered on those occasions that got the ears of the Pharisees all puckered up. To compound matters, Jesus then calls Levi, a tax collector to be a disciple and much to the horror of the Pharisees dines with him and his friends. At first, the Pharisees merely questioned the actions of this rabbi but then begin to get agitated. “Why does this fellow speak in this way?” (2:7) Finally, they take their ire and irritation to the door step of Jesus in order to chastise him for being a bad example to his disciples.
Who knew that a Sabbath snack would kick up such a ruckus? The Old Testament, especially the First five books of the Law, has just one thing to say about the Sabbath; keep it holy (Exodus 20: 8- 11). The Rabbis seemed unhappy with such a basic law and found it necessary to specify thirty nine actions as forbidden on the Sabbath; amongst them were reaping, winnowing, threshing and preparing a meal. But every law has an exception and this was no different. Humanitarian grounds exempted one from these actions on the Sabbath. Saving a life took precedence over keeping the law.
The disciples are hungry and walking through the grain fields now perform three actions which for the Pharisees constituted as work on the Sabbath; the plucked, they threshed or rubbed it in their hands and they ate (the entire process cumulatively seems like they baked some bread). The Pharisees now have their cause to pick to a fight with Jesus.
Ironically, these self-appointed guardians of the religious law needed a reminder of the law itself. Feeding the hungry, as I said before, was exempt from sabbath regulations and as if to remind them Jesus jostles their memory a bit. Have you forgotten David who in 1 Samuel 21:1-7 actually asked (he did not take it) for the show bread from Ahimelech, bread meant for the priest only, to feed his starving men because no ordinary bread was available? Shocking as this might sound to the Jews, the priests consented. Compare this narrative with someone opening the tabernacle to eat the sacred hosts because they were hungry.
But this text was meant to cover more than just a matter of legal requirements of the Sabbath for Mark adds the line, “the son of man is the Lord of the Sabbath”. Mark wants to make a point that Jesus has dominion over the third commandment and that he is God and not just some messenger of universal love and forgiveness. It is this claim that gets the Pharisees all riled up. While they complained of his unorthodox behaviour his claim of Godhead, was for them, blasphemy!
There is a point of reflection for all of us here lest we too loose the plot. That Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath does not negate the sabbath, on the contrary it reiterates it. This is not a passage that calls for a loose understanding of our conduct on the Sabbath. While the day must be governed by love, that love must be shown to God and to man. The Sabbath was meant to be life giving not life draining and the worship of God and the service of mankind brings life on the Sabbath. These still need to be observed. They are not mere empty rituals but a relationship that we share with God and his people.