Sin Boldly! Scripture passage for January 15

Mark 2:23 – 3:6 (NRSV)
One Sabbath he 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.

Comment:  Throughout the whole second chapter of Mark, Jesus does some amazing and surprising things, most of which counter the cultural norms, power structures and religious beliefs of his day—eventually resulting in the confrontation in the synagogue during the Sabbath. Despite how the Pharisees are often presented, they were respected religious leaders. 

The tension here results not just in how the Sabbath is viewed (incidentally the fourth of the Ten Commandments), but the overall system of purity and pollution, holiness and sin, clean and unclean, which extended to people, places, things and times. Sabbath held the importance of being a holy time, not to be defiled by prohibited behavior. The fields of Israel might be holier than any other land, but the synagogue was holier still. Furthermore, a man with a disability was at the very margins of cleanliness.

Although we might be tempted to judge this system harshly, it also provided a structure that allowed a minority ethnic group with their unique religious ideals to survive multiple generations without being absorbed into the a dominant culture.  

—Comments influenced by David Rhoads, “Social Criticism: Crossing Boundaries,” in Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies, ed. Janice Capel Anderson and Stephen D. Moore (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).

1.      How do you describe the tension in this passage? 

2.      If the system has helped Israel to survive, why does Jesus seem to be working against it? 

3.      Why is the Sabbath so prominent in this passage?

4.      How do you translate this passage in terms of cultural relevance/application for our own society? Your life?

Rev. Tara Bauer
Pastoral Resident

About PlymouthSpirit

Plymouth Congregational Church is a progressive faith community grounded in the Christian tradition. We are spiritual, loving, relevant and transforming.
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3 Responses to Sin Boldly! Scripture passage for January 15

  1. Paul Price says:

    As with all systems (survival tools and tools for thriving), are they living or dead? Is the U.S. Constitution a “living” document, needing to be adapted as conditions change, or was it set in stone centuries ago by hallowed, beyond criticism, ancestors? (A necessary simplification for complex arguments and theories). Likewise, any “sacred” text or system or practice, all of which are products of human hands. All are mixed blessings, with positive, sometimes challenging and unanticipated aspects; sometimes with even aspect or “unfoldings” to be warded against, which may in turn conceal a “blessing.”

    Indeed, my personal “systems”-in some way an analogue for how culturally based systems work, become extraordinarily set in concrete, zombified, and may need some heresy to keep growing and not be feeding on the living.

  2. Hazel Lutz says:

    1. How do you describe the tension in this passage?
    Is it the tension between Jesus, who is trying to bring God’s rule into the world, especially on the Sabbath, and those who use the Biblical and traditional structures for understanding God’s rule to discredit Jesus. The latter are focused more on discrediting Jesus, than on God’s rule.

    2. If the system has helped Israel to survive, why does Jesus seem to be working against it?
    Jesus is not working against it, but updating and humanizing it. Also, as he reported shows in the scripture, he is not the first servant of God to interpret the rules differently.

    Also Sabbath is meant as a regularly recurring time to attend to spiritual matters during a regular life of non-spiritual matters. However, when things are not regular (as in the case of King David’s starving and worn out soldiers, or in the case of the man with a withered hand), the Sabbath rules are less important than attention to the immediate needs of people. Sabbath is not intended as a means of extending human suffering on earth, but rather as a means of relief from suffering. Healing on the Sabbath, or feeding the hungry on the Sabbath may be the best possible celebration of God’s Sabbath.

    3. Why is the Sabbath so prominent in this passage?
    It is being used by both Jesus and his detractors as a cutting knife—to define Sabbath (in Jesus’
    s case) or to define heretical behavior (the use that the Pharisees put it to). The point is how do we interpret Sabbath, I think. As well as how do we interpret God’s will for us in life.

    4. How do you translate this passage in terms of cultural relevance/application for our own society? Your life?
    There’s no time like the present to do good works. Doing good works can be a form of healing Sabbath. I find my volunteer work a good rest for my own spirit, in some ways. It takes my mind off daily stresses for a while and can be refreshing.

  3. Roger Herr says:

    I am looking forward to listening to “Sin Boldly”.
    Do you plan to comment on the Catholic position on embryonic stem cell research? I believe they are quite mistaken in their views and practices. How about their position opposing the use of condoms to prevent aids? I suspect that many Evangelicals espouse the Catholic view. I think those of us who “see” otherwise need to find ways to counter these views and, indeed, support the practice(embryonic stem cell research and use of condoms).

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