Picnic (Mark 2:23-28)

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Do you remember when the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, was asked what the naughtiest thing was that she’d ever done?  Struggling to think of anything particularly heinous, she gave the since much mocked answer that she had once skipped through a field of wheat. 

Well, here we find Jesus and his disciples in trouble for talking a walk through a field. The problem is not that they’ve trampled the corn damaging the harvest.  Rather, it’s that the disciples have been helping themselves to a bit of a picnic by picking and nibbling on the corn as they went along.

The Pharisees spot the disciples doing this and complain to Jesus.  Won’t he act to stop them? They are picking the grain on a Sabbath.  In their concern to avoid accidentally breaking a law in ignorance, the Pharisees had built up a system of more detailed laws to ensure that they never did. The Mishnah -a collection of the teachings and traditions of Judaism identified 39 different ways that you could break the Sabbath. Reaping was already included within the Law proper as forbidden (Exodus 34:21). However, the Pharisees went further in detailing what reaping might entail and included plucking the grain from the corn as part of the definition.  Jesus’ disciples were breaking the Sabbath and Jesus as their teacher was responsible.[1]

Here is the problem with legalism. We can see that it arises out of good motives, a desire to please God and to be holy. However, legalism becomes a source of pride as we compare ourselves with other. It places heavy burdens on others and often becomes a way for those with power to exercise control over others. It causes us to focus on external actions instead of addressing the condition of our hearts.

Jesus’ response is to point the Pharisees to an incident in the life of King David.  When David was on the run from Saul before he became King, he stopped at the Tabernacle and asked for food for his men. He took the bread which was on display in the Sanctuary and which only the priests were meant to eat.  The needs of God’s anointed trumped the ritual requirements of the time. In the same way, Jesus as God’s anointed is Lord over the Sabbath so that the needs of his people trump the regulations surrounding the Sabbath.

Jesus drives the point home with these words:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 

God’s Laws are for our good, not to restrict us or to harm us. That’s the problem with legalism, it sees God’s laws as a burden instead of a blessing.

If the Sabbath is made for man, then Jesus as the true king, the second Adam, the representative man, as well as the one who is fully God has sovereignty over that day.  He is the Lord of Space and Time and so it is for him to decide what should be done with it. Should the Sabbath be used for good or evil? That’s the decision that’s going to be made in chapter 3.

[1] See Lane, Mark, 114-115.

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