God’s Work?

 This is the sermon I preached at St. Timothy Lutheran Church on Sunday, 6/2/24. The text was Mark 2:23-3:6. 

Mark’s gospel is contentious. It is filled with stories of escalating controversy. Today’s gospel passage portrays a series of five controversies, each raising the level of conflict. We even have an angry Jesus here.  As commentator, Judith Hock Wray explains:  

The earlier controversy stories call attention to table fellowship (2:13–17), fasting (2:18–20), [and]wine and wineskins (2:21–22)…First-century Christians listening to Mark’s account probably heard these stories within the context of their experiences of controversy about table fellowship, fasting, breaking bread and sharing wine in worship. (Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season after Pentecost 1)

The first portion of the text is about when, [all this takes place], namely the Sabbath. The [text] …beginning [with chapter] 3…relocates the story to a [different] where, the Synagogue (Myallis). We move from a field outside to a building inside. 

Jesus is not undercutting the law concerning the sabbath. After all, in the first instance, his argument uses King David’s example. The exchange is from lesser to greater. If David could do it, certainly Jesus, the Son of Man, could because Jesus is lord of the Sabbath. 

Observance of the Sabbath is central to Jewish identity. It was then and is now. For example, in the homes of Orthodox Jews is a special kind of stove with a small burner in the middle, so that food can be made before the Sabbath and kept warm on the stove’s small burner. 

Another example from when my family and I lived in the Holy Land, is that you could count on the ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem to ensure the sabbath was kept. One of the things that cannot be done is driving on the Sabbath. If you drove by their neighborhood on the sabbath, you risked having them throw rocks at you and your car. In fact, the police put up barriers to prevent people from going into the neighborhood by mistake. These people did not see the irony that throwing rocks could be work. 

Jesus is not trying to wipe out the law, but is trying to put it in its proper place. The issue of sabbath observance was and is an ongoing issue. 

In verse 24, our text says, “The Pharisees said to [Jesus].” Another way to translate this is “They were saying,” indicating “it might be that this was an ongoing contention that comes to a head on this particular occasion, rather than a simple one-time event” according to Pastor Rob Myallis (lectionarygreek.blogspot.com). The issue was not a one and done. 

The Sabbath Was Created for God’s People (2:27–28). This does not mean that God created the sabbath and other parts of the law and humanity needs to live up to it, or they’re lost. One has to work to be acceptable to God. This would mean that humanity was made for the sabbath. 

Since the sabbath was made for humanity, it is God’s gift to us. “God is chiefly known as love and the laws and purity rituals are for humanity’s own good…they offer ways that humanity can respond to God’s grace with gratitude” (D. Mark Davis, leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com). 

The second part of the gospel reading may be called “What Is Permissible on the Sabbath?” (3:1–6) Here, Jesus really brings home his message. Although the man with the withered hand wasn’t going to die if he wasn’t healed, he had a need. 

Jesus was being watched. They were waiting for him to heal on the Sabbath, “so that they might accuse him” (3:2). Jesus certainly knows how to bait his enemies. And he also is able to technically not heal the man, yet he is healed. Jesus did not touch him, lay hands on him, or do any of the other things he’s done in other instances. Without work being done, there was no Sabbath violation. 

Jesus enticed the Pharisees by having the man with the withered hand come forward. This placed him where everyone could see the healing as a response to the challenge. The Pharisees had been bested. They became “infuriated to the point of planning Jesus’ death to ‘get satisfaction’ for their being shamed” (Bruce Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Social Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels).

The Pharisees decided to join forces with the Herodians, who were also Jews, but those who were married to the politics of those who collaborated with the Roman occupation. They were not well-liked by the average person because of this collaboration with Rome.

How does this apply to us? In our society, we value hard work and accomplishments no matter how much work it takes, no matter how little sleep or rest we get. The more, the better. Eventually, your body will give out if you don’t give it its needed rest. 

God’s gift to us is the time of rest. We can then have a time of quiet to not only nourish our bodies, but our souls. We need to take a break and be still to hear God’s voice. Martin Luther wrote about the Sabbath, “We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it” (Martin Luther, The Small Catechism). 

This takes us to the importance of relationship with God. In today’s text, Jesus manifests his lordship of the sabbath. This is just one of the many ways Jesus demonstrates this in Mark. All of this is so that we may trust Christ’s leadership. 

God give us gifts because he loves us. Our faith is all about relationship—relationship with God, relationship with each other and relationship with our world. When we take advantage of Sabbath rest, we are freed to hear God’s voice and to do more for our needy neighbors.   

Amen. 

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