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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Mark 2:23—3:6

One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 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 he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then 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. He 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. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. (NRSV)

I’ve always found it intriguing that a simple act of healing was, according to Mark, the last straw for the Pharisees to start plotting against Jesus in earnest. It can’t have been the healing itself, of course, although the Pharisees seem singularly unimpressed with the man’s recovery. And it seems a stretch to think that their wrath was actually triggered by the breaking of the Sabbath laws. Rather, it seems that Jesus’ ability to see through their air of righteousness to what was really motivating them—power—tipped them over the edge. His pointed observations in both stories for today’s readings: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” and “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” cut to the heart of the matter: the laws the Pharisees had constructed were much more about their ability to create a new source of power for themselves by policing the Sabbath than about honoring the day of rest itself.

While I’m always interested in finding better ways to honor the Sabbath, the deeper issue for me in this passage is thinking about how to respond when actions and laws go against the justice and mercy God has decreed. I think back to the brave people who sheltered Jews during World War II, but there are many more recent issues. In an era of Black Lives Matter and Women’s Marches, of #Resistance, and of #MeToo, where do actions rank on a scale, from simple acts of kindness to civil disobedience to outright lawbreaking? Where do my actions fit in, when daily I hear of others who have been wronged? What, then, becomes the meaning of lawful? Is it God’s law? I think of Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” I will strive to do so according to God’s laws.

Lord, help me see clearly where the motivations come from in the laws and actions I encounter, especially concerning those on the margins. Help me act in accordance with your justice and your mercy. In your holy name. Amen.

Written by Lisa Stracks, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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