Alternate reading: Mark 14:12-16,22-26

Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-6

2:23 One Sabbath he was going through the grain fields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?" 25 And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how 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 also gave it to those who were with him?" 27 And he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; 28 so the Son of man is lord even of the Sabbath."
3:1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. 2 And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come here." 4 And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Meditation: What does the commandment "keep holy the Sabbath" require of us? Or better yet, what is the primary intention behind this command? The religious leaders confronted Jesus on this issue. The "Sabbath rest" was meant to be a time to remember and celebrate God's goodness and the goodness of his work, both in creation and redemption. It was a day set apart for the praise of God, his work of creation, and his saving actions on our behalf. It was intended to bring everyday work to a halt and to provide needed rest and refreshment.

The Lord of the Sabbath feeds and nourishes us
Jesus' disciples were scolded by the scribes and Pharisees, not for plucking and eating corn from the fields, but for doing so on the Sabbath (Mark 2:24). In defending his disciples, Jesus argues from the Scriptures that human need has precedence over ritual custom.

When David and his men were fleeing for their lives, they sought food from Ahimelech the priest (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The only bread he had was the holy bread offered in the Temple. On every Sabbath morning twelves loaves were laid before God on a golden table in the Holy Place. Each loaf represented one of the twelve tribes of Israel. No one was allowed to eat this bread except the priests because it represented the very presence of God. In their hunger and need for physical nourishment and strength, David and his men ate of this bread which Ahimelech offered to them.

Jesus' reference to thebread of the Presence(Mark 2:24) alludes to the truebread from heavenwhich he offers to all who believe in him. Jesus, the Son of David, and theSon of Man, a title for theMessiah, declares that he is "Lord of the Sabbath."

The Lord of the Sabbath offers us true rest, refreshment, and healing
When Jesus entered the synagogue with his disciples on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1), the scribes and Pharisees watched Jesus very intently to see if he would perform some work of healing. They wanted to catch Jesus in the act of breaking the Sabbath ritual of ceasing from work so they might accuse him of breaking God's law. In a few penetrating words Mark the Evangelist tells us that Jesus looked at them with anger, and grieved at their hardness of hearts (Mark 3:5). Jesus taught with divine authority that the Sabbath rest did not exclude showing mercy and care for those in need. And he backed up his teaching with the miraculous sign of healing the man who had a withered hand.

The legal scholars (scribes) and religious-minded Jews (Pharisees) were filled with fury and contempt for Jesus because they put their own judgment of right and wrong above God and his intention for the commandments and teaching on holiness, mercy, and forgiveness. They were ensnared in their own legalism because they did not understand or see the purpose of God for the Sabbath commandment (remember the Sabbath day - to keep it holy - Exodus 20:8).. Jesus shows their fallacy by pointing to God's intention for the Sabbath: to do good and to save life rather than to do evil or to destroy life (Mark 3:3).

God's purpose and intention for the Sabbath commandment
Why didn't the Pharisees recognize the claims of mercy and love of neighbor over ritual rules and regulations? Their zeal for ritual observance blinded them from the demands of charity. Jesus reminds the Pharisees that the Sabbath was given for our benefit, to refresh and renew us in living for God. It was intended for good and not for evil. Withholding mercy and kindness in response to human need was not part of God's intention that we rest from unnecessary labor. Jesus healed on the Sabbath and he showed mercy to those in need. All who are burdened and weary can find true rest and refreshment in him.

Commemorating Christ's resurrection and work of redemption on the Lord's Day
Since the time of the first Apostles, Christians have traditionally celebrated Sunday as the Lord's Day (Revelation 1:10; Acts 20:7; Luke 24:30; 1 Corinthians 16:1-2) to worship together around the table of the Lord (the Eucharist or Lord's Supper) and to commemorate God's work of redemption in Jesus Christ and the new work of creation accomplished through Christ's death and resurrection.

Taking "our sabbath rest" is a way of expressing honor to God for all that he has done for us in and through Jesus Christ our Lord and Redeemer. Such "rest" however does not exempt us from our love for our neighbor. If we truly love the Lord above all else, then the love of God will overflow to love of neighbor as well. Do you honor the Lord Jesus in the way you celebrate Sunday as the Lord's Day of the Resurrection, and in the way you treat and love your neighbor as well?

Lord Jesus, you bring healing, rest, and refreshment to all who seek you with faith, hope, and love. May your Holy Spirit renew and transform my heart, mind, and will to always seek what is good and right for your sake and for the good of my neighbor as well.

Psalm 111:1-2,5-6,9-10c

1 Praise the LORD. I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who have pleasure in them.
5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.
9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant for ever. Holy and awesome is his name!
10 His praise endures for ever!

Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: The Lord of the Sabbath, by John Chrysostom, 547-407 A.D.

"Doubtless he speaks of himself when he mentions the 'Lord of the sabbath' (Mark 2:28, Matthew 12:8, Luke 6:5). Mark relates a complementary saying about our common human nature, that "the sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). Why then should someone who gathered sticks on the sabbath be censured? The law that was established earlier could not be scorned without jeopardizing the law to be given later.
"The sabbath did confer many benefits, great blessings in the earlier dispensation. It made people more gentle toward those close to them. It guided them toward being more sympathetic. It located them temporally within God's creation and providence, as Ezekiel knew (Ezekiel 20:19-20). The sabbath trained Israel by degrees to abstain from evil and disposed them to listen to the things of the Spirit.
"They would have stretched the law out of shape if, when he was giving the law of the sabbath, Jesus had said, 'You can work on the sabbath, but just do good works, do nothing evil.' This would have brought out the worst in them. So he restrained them from doing any works at all on the sabbath. And even this stricter prohibition did not keep them in line. But he himself, in the very act of giving the law of the sabbath, gave them a veiled sign of things to come. For by saying, 'You must do no work, except what shall be done for your life' (Exodus 12:16), he indicated that the intent of the law was to have them refrain from evil works only, not all works. Even in the temple, much went on during the sabbath, and with great diligence and double toil. Thus even by this very shadowy saying Jesus was secretly opening the truth to them. Did Christ then attempt to repeal a law so beneficial as the sabbath law? Far from it. Rather, he greatly magnified the sabbath. For with Christ came the time for everyone to be trained by a higher requirement."(excerpt from THE GOSPEL OF MATTHEW, HOMILY 39.3)