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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, June 3, 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)

“[Jesus] looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’”

As I read this sentence out loud (a practice I heartily recommend as part of Bible study), it was hard not to sound angry when saying the words inside the quotation marks. Try it. It’s quite a shift—from angry and aggrieved to compassionate and present.

But I am completely convinced that Jesus made that shift. Though his humanity ensured that he experienced all the frustration and confusion and disappointment we recognize in our lives, story after story in scripture shows us that he met each person with openness and energy. We certainly see that in these vignettes. Nitpicked and conspired against by the Pharisees, he could have scolded the disciples for being careless about sabbath regulations or asked the man with the withered hand to come back at a better time.

Instead I imagine “Stretch out your hand” being said with tenderness, warmth, and kindness. Those words carried a very clear invitation. Show me what makes you vulnerable, what fills you with shame, what defines you to others (and maybe even to yourself). Tell me about your hunger, your emptiness, what drives you to do what you ordinarily wouldn’t. In those places, as in all of life, I am with you. I love you. I want fullness of life for you.

In those encounters the disciples were fed; the man was healed. So are we.

Lord of the Sabbath, help us remember that any rule we keep or good action we perform needs to be rooted in our relationship with you. Thank you for the grace and love that pervades this gift of our lives. Remind us to speak and act out of it. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Program Coordinator, Center for Life and Learning

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