One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2, verses 23-28.
There is so much to unpack in this small story that it’s going to take a few days. Thanks ahead of time for bearing with me.
You see, this story is so antiquated that, in the West of 2014, I wonder how we can even relate to it. Picking pieces of grain is against the law on a Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday, take your pick; the actual day is moot according to verse 27). What’s the story of Abiathar the priest and King David? And what about the last two things Jesus says (in verses 27 and 28)? Sabbath for man and not man for Sabbath? And then Jesus does another throw-down again?
Radical stuff if you think about it. Radical then and radical now.
ALL of Scripture is radical stuff. When I read the entire story in these 6 verses, I’m struck by how little things have changed. Those who would try to snipe at us or undo us usually do so in almost trivial ways. Our society sometimes seems fixated on small things when larger issues go unresolved. Look no further than the information that’s leaked out because of the North Korean hack into Sony Pictures’ databases. In reading news stories about it, it’s almost shocking to see the shallowness and triviality of all those involved. Shocking, that is, until I remember that it’s movie stars we’re talking about. But movie stars need Jesus too and He loves movie stars the same way he loves farmers, politicians, people who make panty hose for a living, and healthcare project managers.
What seems most radical about this story, however, is how gently ‘in your face’ Jesus is when He’s confronted about His disciples’ Sabbath ‘work.’ He doesn’t speak in parables; He doesn’t talk around the edges; He doesn’t dance around the truth. No, He confronts the Pharisees, the most learned ecclesiastical experts of their day, by saying “have you never read.” It’s radical. NOBODY, not even a famous and inspired rabbi with a growing following, would dare to upstage the entrenched powers that be, yet this is what Jesus does here. He rebukes them by being “in your face with grace.” Notice, too, how He concludes His remark by teaching them the simple truth about the Sabbath, itself a way of saying, “Boys, you’re looking at this thing all wrong.”
Would you go up to President Obama and tell him he’s got things all wrong? Or Kim Jong Un? How about your boss on a bad day? Or the kid who’s been bullying you? Radical stuff from a truly radical man; hardly the touchy-feely Jesus we portray in the American suburbs.
Lord, I need Your grace in my face too!
Read the whole story again in Mark 2, verses 23-28.