The Lord of the Sabbath
Text: Mark 2:23-3:6
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
June 03, 2018
This past week I had a pleasant surprise. One of my former colleague from Wesley called and said that she and her husband were Bonita Springs for a long Memorial Day weekend and then asked Bonnie and me to join them for dinner.
We had a delightful time, and inevitably got to reminiscing. One of the stories she told was an incident that occurred to her in her first semester at Wesley. She had a class of over 100 students. At the mid-term exam she instructed the class that they had exactly one hour to complete it. Long before the hour was up, she noted, many of the students had completed the exam, laid them on a pile on her desk and left the room. For the dozen or so students still writing, she gave them a five-minute warning. All but one handed in their work when the time was up. She told the remaining student that he must hand in whatever he had completed. He ignored her and kept on writing. Five minutes went by, then ten. “I was just about to leave when he walked up to the desk, “she said. “I’m sorry, I warned you, I can’t accept your exam now, you went way past the time limit.” “Do, you know who I am?” He asked? Somewhat embarrassed she replied, “No, with over 100 students in the class, I haven’t been able to learn all your names yet.” “Good,” he said. He then stuffed his paper in the middle of the pile of exams and walked out.
“Do you know who I am?” That will be a good question for each of you to ask your new rector after a service about six months after she or he has arrived! In today’s Gospel, it is evident that the Pharisees didn’t know who Jesus was. But they were beginning to have suspicions. It is clear they didn’t like the conclusions they were coming to.
Now that we have entered the season of Pentecost, our Gospel readings will be taken from Mark. Today’s lesson ends Mark’s opening section in which he introduces us to Jesus and to the kind of ministry that he will have.
During Epiphany we were exposed to the rest of this introductory section. I begin our time of reflection this morning by briefly reminding us of those events. Mark begins by introducing us to Jesus at his baptism. And from the very outset, we are told who Jesus is. The voice from heaven says: “This is my son, my beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus then choses his first disciples, two sets of brothers who are fishermen: Peter and Andrew; and James and John. We next find Jesus with these four men in the seaside village of Capernaum. It is the sabbath, they are in church and Jesus has been invited to preach. He is interrupted in the middle of his sermon. A man possessed with an unclean spirit stood up and said, “Jesus of Nazareth, you have come to destroy us.” What would you do and how would you feel if someone stopped you the first time you spoke to a large audience? Well Jesus rebuked him and cast the unclean spirit out of the man and he was his normal self.
The reaction of the congregation was what you might expect. They were amazed at his teaching and were astounded by his actions. “Who is this guy?” they wondered. As they left for their homes they couldn’t help but keep talking about him.
Peter invited Jesus and the other disciples home for dinner. It must have been a spur-of-the-moment decision and he obviously hadn’t bothered to tell his wife that he was bringing home company, for when they arrived they found dinner was not ready, and Peter’s mother-in-law in bed sick. Jesus healed her, and she then got up and made dinner.
In the meantime, word had spread that Jesus was at Peter’s house. Mark states: “the whole city gathered at the door, bringing their sick and possessed.” Jesus healed them all. It was so late that by the time he finished Peter invited his dinner guests to spend the night.
When Peter awoke the next morning, he found his yard full of more people wanting to see Jesus. But Jesus had slipped away before dawn to be alone to pray. When Peter and the other disciples found him, Jesus said it was time to move on. For the next few weeks they traveled to surrounding villages and experienced similar positive results. Mark ends chapter one by telling the story of Jesus healing a man of leprosy, the most deadly and dreaded disease of that time. As a result, Jesus’s star continued to rise. His fame was so great he could no longer openly enter a town. Everybody is asking “Who is this guy?” Everyone is wanting to come and meet him. He is the new celebrity!
Mark then moves to Part II of his opening section that introduces us to Jesus and his ministry. It includes all of chapter 2 and the first six verses of chapter 3. In this section, Jesus’ celebrity status continues to increase, but Mark introduces a new element into the story. The establishment, both religious and political begin to take notice and show concern. This guy needs to be watched. He could prove to be trouble. He might prove to be a threat to their privileged place in their society.
As Mark opens his second chapter, Jesus is back in Capernaum, we find him in a house, probably Peter’s, teaching. The place is packed with a standing room only crowd. He is in the middle of his lecture when there is a commotion above him. There is a scraping noise as four men remove tiles from the roof and then slowly began to lower a paralyzed man, lying on a mattress, in front of him with ropes.
While most of the audience are his strong supporters, Jesus is aware that there are some religious leaders present who have developed some concerns about him. Like a good politician, he decides to set them up. Looking at the man, he said “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Immediately, the Pharisees bristled and say, “who can forgive sins but God?” Jesus replies, “which is harder to say, Son your sins are forgiven? Or rise, take up your bed and walk.” With that the man stood up and walked out of the house. Jesus had thrown down the gauntlet. You can be sure that the Pharisees would pick it up.
The next day Jesus extends an invitation for a fifth disciple to join his company. The first four were fishermen, a quite respectable trade. But now he invites further controversy by calling Matthew, who collects taxes for the Roman government. For the Jews, who are under Roman occupation, they had a word for fellow Jews who cooperated with Rome. Collaborators. Politically speaking, that would almost be like inviting someone with ties to the mafia to be part of your political campaign.
To make matters worse, Matthew was so thrilled to become a member of Jesus’ team that he threw a party. He invited all his friends, and of course, Jesus was the guest of honor. Who were his friends? They were also tax collectors or people who the religious elite considered to be sinners. The Pharisees lost no time contrasting Jesus and his disciples unfavorably with John the Baptist and his follower who instead of going with sinners, spent their time in fasting and prayer.
But the Pharisees were selective in their condemnation They might well charge Jesus for collaborating with the enemy. But they worked with their own set of collaborators as well. In this case, they collaborated with the Herodians. Who were they? They were a group of Jews that Herod hired to spy of their fellow citizens and report back any unrest that might prove to be a threat to Herod’s rule.
The Pharisees engaged them to spy on Jesus and his followers. In today’s Gospel they have come to the Pharisees having gotten the goods on Jesus. On their way to church they had spotted Jesus’s disciples taking some grain from a farmer’s field. The charge wasn’t stealing. Jewish law commanded Jewish farmers to leave some grain at harvest for the poor to gather or for a hungry stranger who passed by. It was part of Israel’s understanding of hospitality. Rather, they charged Jesus’ disciples for dishonoring God by harvesting grain on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees, not knowing they would receive this good bit of news, had also set another trap for Jesus. Although Jesus had not been invited to preach on this particular Sabbath, the Pharisees had learned that Jesus and his band were returning to Capernaum from the travels to the surrounding villages and was expected to be in attendance at church that day. They brought in a man with a withered arm who normally couldn’t attend. They then sat back and waited to see what Jesus would do. Jesus responded exactly as they expected. He healed the man. Now they had him. The charge wasn’t “practicing medicine without a license,” as some healing evangelists are charged with today. Rather they charged him “practicing medicine on the Sabbath.” Again, according to their understanding it was a violation of the commandment to honor the Sabbath Day and to keep it holy. Mark concludes this introductory section by stating that the Pharisees then left the synagogue and began to plot with the Herodians on how they might arrest Jesus and have him put to death.
Thus, Mark sets out early in his gospel, what Jesus will face during the next three and a half years of his ministry. Growing success and acceptance by the masses, but deepening concern and a determined commitment to stop him at all costs by the establishment.
I have spent most of my sermon explaining the context of today’s Gospel. I conclude by focusing on today’s reading’s main point. We are to honor the Sabbath and in doing so honor God. How do we do that? The Pharisees had 39 rules that they believed enabled them to keep this commandment and thereby honor God. Jesus clearly violated these rules. He gave two arguments in his defense: First he said: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man was made for the Sabbath.” By that he meant that the Sabbath Day was made for humankind’s benefit. Anything that is done that is life enhancing honors the Sabbath and honors God. It summed up his whole ministry. In his first sermon in his home town of Nazareth, he put it this way: “The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, release to the prisoner, recover sight to the blind and give relief to the oppressed.” Regardless of what day it was, by doing those things, he suggested honored the Sabbath.
Secondly, he said, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” He is basically saying: “Guys, if you knew who I am, you wouldn’t be challenging me, you would be following me. It reminds me of another Pharisee who also thought he was pleasing God by fighting Jesus. One day he got knocked off his horse by a blinding light... He called out, “Who art thou Lord.” The reply that came was “I am Jesus who you are persecuting.” That Pharisee spent the rest of his life following our Lord. In today’s New Testament reading that same former Pharisee states: “For we preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord.” May we find that we too model in our lives by all we say and do, this same life affirming concern. In so doing we honor the Sabbath by following the Lord of the Sabbath, Amen.