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“Not Just Another Day”

June 2, 2024 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston

Scripture: Mark 2:23– 3:6

June 2, 2024 Second Sunday After Pentecost The text is Mark 2:23 - 3:6.


23One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He 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.” 27Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
3:1Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” 4Then 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. 5He 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. 6The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.


May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.

Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The cultural and religious importance of Sabbath observation in first-century Israel cannot be overstated.  From the very first time that a day of rest was decreed in the Ten Commandments the Hebrew people were engaged in discussions regarding exactly what could and could not be done on the Sabbath.  You all know how the Commandment reads; “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”.



In his Small Catechism, Martin Luther offers this explanation as to how we are to honor this commandment; “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”.  Clear and simple, right?  But in Jesus time, the Pharisees, and others whose task it was to interpret the Law and inform the faithful how to live according to its teachings had concluded that the Sabbath commandment should be more explicit in how it was to be observed.  More on that in a moment. 

It’s interesting to note that the ancient Hebrew people were the first group to set a day aside from their labors in order to devote themselves to praise and worship of their creator.  The rest of Roman society, and indeed every culture in the first century didn’t recognize that a day from labor should be part of how people lived.  It was simply understood that since there were seven days in a week, that all of them ought to be devoted to work.  After all, things needed to be done in order to survive, so any time not dedicated to labor was time that was wasted.  Not so for our ancient Jewish ancestors; they accepted that the commandment in the Law of Moses to observe a “Shabbat” was intended for them to set a day aside for rest from their labors and in worship of God.  The Hebrew word itself means, “to rest”.

Before we delve into how the observance of the Jewish day of rest evolved into a much stricter set of forbidden activities, we really ought to examine the Pharisees who constructed these ways of observing the Sabbath and putting them and their role into perspective.  The Pharisees, in spite of their many confrontational interactions with Jesus were highly regarded in Jewish society as devout, upstanding, and respected interpreters of the Law.  They held themselves to the highest standards of obedience to the Torah and they devoted themselves to interpretation of the Commandments in order that ordinary Jewish people might be guided in their own faithfulness to religious practice.  Thus, many of their disagreements with Jesus were the result of him teaching correct ways of adhering to the Law, as God truly intended; while they approached religious practice from a purely human point of view.  Nevertheless, in their often-overzealous approach to obedience to the Torah what they taught was nearly always contradicted by what Jesus proclaimed was true, faithful compliance with God’s Law.


And to add another layer to the complexity of obedience to the Law in general, and to Sabbath observance in particular, even among these religious scholars there was often disagreement over what was permitted and what was prohibited behavior on the day of rest.  A few examples of what the Pharisees did agree upon as forbidden to do on Shabbat:

-Traveling more than 2,000 paces outside the city, about a half-mile was considered “unnecessary travel”.

-Carrying a needle in one’s cloak on the Sabbath might be construed as “sewing”.

-Sliding a stool across a dirt floor could result in being scolded for “plowing”.

And it was this overly rigid interpretation of what one wasn’t permitted to do on the Sabbath that was the reason for the altercation between Jesus and the religious authorities this morning.  While the scolding over the disciples picking some heads of grain was the rather insignificant incident that began Jesus’ conflict with the Pharisees on this particular Sabbath, it was his healing of the man’s deformed hand that brought the situation to a head.  There are a number of opposites on view when we read about this encounter in the synagogue.  Jesus heals the man’s deformed hand even though in its strictest sense the Law prohibited this.  Jesus feels compassion for the man in his affliction, while at the same time he is angry and grieved at the cold-heartedness of the Pharisees who challenged his actions.  The Pharisees see only a law which must be followed and Jesus sees a person in need of healing.  Jesus is acting out of sympathy and pity while the Pharisees consider him a threat; to the Law as they understand it, to themselves, and to  their power.

And Jesus’ statement that , “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”, tells the Pharisees and us all we need to know about God’s will and desire for God’s people.  Jesus’ intention was not to abolish Sabbath tradition or deny that the day was to be set aside from one’s labor.  But he was adamant that the day of rest was not meant to be a burden on God’s people, but an opportunity for our ancient Jewish ancestors and us to devote time to the worship and praise of God.

And Jesus’ one statement regarding the purpose of the Sabbath was clearly intended to include all of the Law, the rituals, and practices that comprise our faith.  “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”.  There remains even today in some places, a theology that assert that God created the Law and that all of humankind must live up to it or redemption is not possible.  In that view humans must strive to achieve a certain level of holiness in order to be acceptable to God; we are compelled to follow God’s Law without deviation and participate in all necessary rituals which guarantee purity before God.  The very opposite of this approach is what Jesus proclaims to the Pharisees and to us this morning.  The notion that the Sabbath was made for humanity and not the other way around, confirms that our God of love has provided opportunity to respond to God’s grace with gratitude.  The Law is given to God’s people for our own good; to serve as a guide for how we are to live our lives, and not to burden us with overly strict and narrow interpretations of what is and is not lawful.    

All this being said, we are nonetheless not exempt from adherence to, if not the letter of the law at least to attempt to abide by what God desires from us.  There is a rather obvious difference from the ways in which Sabbath observance is practiced among Christians today, than it was by our Jewish forebears.  Granted, we have shifted from Saturday to Sunday in accordance with the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead on the first day of the week.  Thus, we celebrate every Sunday during the year as a “Little Easter”.  The issue is that, while the Pharisees took offence if the faithful failed to adhere to every small rule and regulation that was required on the Sabbath, many modern-day Christians have come to view Sunday, in many cases as just another day of the week.  For some, Sabbath observance might consist of anything other than worship, praise, and gratitude for God’s love, grace, and mercy toward the humankind that Jesus proclaims the Sabbath is made for.  Jesus pronouncement that he is Lord of the Sabbath was provocative enough to serve as the spark that led to his persecution and death.  Shouldn’t Christ’s followers acknowledge that because of his lordship that he is worthy of the all the praise, honor, worship, and glory due to him?  God’s people are invited to enjoy the day of rest that is provided for them by God’s mercy; the Sabbath shouldn’t be just another day.  Such a gift from God shouldn’t be ignored or declined.              

Will you pray with me?  Good, and gracious, and holy God, you have given us the opportunity to gather together in gratitude for all you provide for your people.  Your holy Law is not a burden to us but invites us to reflect on the ways in which your love, mercy, and grace are manifested in our lives.  We give you thanks for the opportunity for Sabbath rest and for granting us a time to come before you in humility and repentance.  And we pray these thing in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who is the Lord of the Sabbath and who came not to abolish your Law, but to fulfil it for your people.  Amen.

God is Good, all the time.  All the time, God is GoodAmen.