Inward out- Tuesday, second week in ordinary time- Mark 2: 23-28

The setting of the fourth controversy story, in a set of five, deals with the Holy Day of the Sabbath. For the Jews, the Sabbath was a big deal.  Judaism was set apart by two characteristic things, the Sabbath and circumcision. These were outward signs of what should have brought inward grace. Unfortunately for the Jews these continued to be external traditions.

The Sabbath law was very complicated for it even determined how many steps one could take. To complicate this even more the Jews began a collection of oral traditions which they attached to the scriptures. These they recorded in a book called the Mishnah which had no less than 12 tractates, 39 different prohibitions; things you could not do on the Sabbath. Among the many such prohibitions, four are connected with today’s Gospel; you could not reap, thresh, winnow or prepare a meal. However, according to the law, it was okay to pluck heads of grain by hand (Deuteronomy 23:25). Read also the ‘law of gleaning’ in the book of Ruth.

Interestingly the Pharisees criticized the disciples of Jesus and not Him directly. Besides eating grain in the gratified they should have picked on Him for breaking other laws of the Sabbath like exceeding the distance covered on the Sabbath (which incidentally the Pharisees broke too as they were shadowing Jesus). However, they chose rather to limit themselves to the actions of His disciples which they construed as working on the Sabbath.

 Jesus’ response begins with the classic lines, “Have you never read?”. Nine times, throughout the New Testament, Jesus said this to His opponents. It is they who should have known their scriptures yet they had become slaves to traditions rather than the scriptures themselves.  His response however is from an Old Testament analogy from 1 Samuel 21:1-6 and here in we find ourselves with certain textual problems.

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