Second Sunday After Pentecost

S. Pentecost 2.24 Mark 2:23ff

And he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.’

Pascal said: ‘the most difficult thing for a man is to sit quietly in a room and do nothing.’ Now, Pascal—a French mathematician and philosopher who used his mathematical skills for card-counting, to win at casino gaming which got him banned from the tonier casinos in Europe—says this like it’s a bad thing. And we tend naturally to agree. The Sabbath, which simply means ‘rest’ in Hebrew, is not just a good idea; it’s the Law!

But, Jesus and his disciples don’t seem to keep it. They just can’t sit still and do nothing, as Pascal recommends and the Law commands. I don’t know. I have this idea, maybe a little crazy, that Jesus just can’t do anything wrong; that whatever Jesus does is awesome, well worth emulating. To me, Jesus is, well… he’s like God, for me! I worship him, wanna be just like him, my favorite superhero. Which has gotten me into some… trouble, sometimes, as it got Jesus into trouble, so, you know, be careful, here. They say you should never meet your heroes, but with Jesus, it’s the only thing I really do want

When I say this hyperactivity thing got him in trouble, I’m not joking. It’s literally what got Jesus killed. The main charge against him was that he broke the Sabbath law, repeatedly, unremorsefully, which the Pharisees then decided was the most important one. It bugged them—that Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead. But they could have let that slide, if only he hadn’t done it on the Sabbath! as we see in our Gospel today, with him healing the man with the withered hand.

Actually, Jesus does a lot of things Pharisees of all times and places throw the “lawbreaker!’ flag on (as my then 7 year-old son threw it on his grandmother as she was grilling me on how to get out of a traffic ticket; Christopher announced, loudly, impatiently: “you’re a lawbreaker, Grandma!). It won’t surprise you that is a precious memory for me, just as the things Pharisees threw lawbreaker! flags on Jesus for are some of my favorite Jesus things—like brown paper packages tied up with strings, wild geese that fly with the moon on their wings, etc. 😉

What things? Ah, glad you asked. As our Gospel begins this morning, we see one of those things. It’s the Sabbath, and Jesus and his disciples aren’t sitting quietly in a room doing nothing. They are tooling along through the grainfields, plucking the heads of grain, rubbing them with (unwashed!) hands and eating them as they go (merrily 😉 along…

These are not their grainfields, of course. And we’re, like, “Oh, no! That’s… stealing and trespassing on private property! Shame, shame on you Jesus, and your disciples! (And you call yourself a Messiah!) Didn’t they know about private property? Surely there was a law against eating your neighbor’s grain, right?”

Well, and interestingly enough: no!, and no!: No, they didn’t have any idea of ‘private property’ (that only came in the late middle ages). And no—not only is there no law against plucking and eating other people’s grain in the scriptures, there’s actually an ordinance saying that it’s perfectly fine to do that, as long as you don’t use a sickle on the grain, and as long as you don’t put the grapes into a container, if it’s a vineyard. Otherwise, have it! Because the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, and he made it for us all to enjoy… 😉

As Woodie Guthrie, in my favorite (and usually omitted) verse of “This Land Is Your Land” sings “There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;/ Sign was painted, it said private property;/ But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;/ This land was made for you and me.”

“What? Surely you’re joking, Pastor!” No, I’m certainly not. That’s really a verse in the original “This Land”. Oh; and it’s also the law in Deut. 23:25.

And I’m not joking about the ‘private property’ thing, either. To the best of my knowledge, the idea of private property was thoroughly condemned by the early church fathers (because all the land is God’s and is held in common by all humanity). It was Aquinas first, I think, in the 13th century who said private property might be an OK thing, viewed a certain way…

I’m not sure Aquinas is quite right about that? Holy scriptures never call us owners, always only stewards (unprofitable ones, at that!), caretakers of what belongs to God, to use for his glory, and our’s and our neighbor’s joy and benefit. Luther thought so, too. How different the modern world would look if we’d see it that way…

I also like how—when they hassled Jesus about healing the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, Jesus isn’t nice to them, isn’t polite, but ‘looked around at them with anger’ and just healed the guy, already; maybe as much to provoke the Pharisees as to help out Mr. Withered?

I like the short-fuse, the anger, the provocation. Maybe we’re too accepting, too chill with evil? Maybe we should get a little more in touch with our anger, like Jesus? Food for thought!

Speaking of food… Jesus does not throw the law from Deut. 23:25 back in the Pharisees’ faces (lauded, I’ll remind you, by everyone—except Jesus—as ‘good people’) when they complain he’s out running around on the Sabbath and eating other people’s hard-earned produce. Nope. Instead of quoting the law like it’s a bunch of rules to catch us out, Jesus goes all figural, typological on ‘em…

He tells us the story of David eating the showbread, showing how the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. What Jesus does with grain is more than lawful. It’s Gospel. He makes, by his hand, his word, from the grain bread, from the grapes wine, turns it into his body and his blood as a banquet for beggars, as the Bread of Heaven that gives life to the world, making the Sabbath a Feast, a heavenly blow-out bash, to feed and delight us all…

The 3rd century-BC Greek Septuagint translates the Hebrew word torah with the Greek word νομος. Modern lexicons today translate νομος as ‘Law’, but I remember reading Bruce Chatwin’s Patagonia as a kid, before I learned Greek, and he insisted the original take on νομος is ‘pasture’, more than ‘rules’, or ‘law’. It’s where we get the word ‘nomad’ from—people moving restlessly from pasture to pasture, seeking their food in due season…

When I learned Greek, I discovered Chatwin was right. Aristotle shaded νομος towards ‘law’. From Homer to Sophocles, it’s ‘pasture’. Scholars like Robert Alter translate torah as ‘teaching’. C.S. Lewis took torah as a synonym for νομος, as ‘The Tao’, The Way—a way that is both journey and its proper End.

God’s νομοςtorah-Law is much more than rules—it is the Way to green pastures, to still waters, to that heavenly Feast where Jesus teaches and feeds us… himself, his very body and blood for our forgiveness, rest, refreshment, joy, and Peace, which surpasses all understanding, guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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