Free for the Sabbath
Mark 2:18-28 Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, "Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" 19 Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day. 21 No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. 22 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins. 23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 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 and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 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." 27 Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath."
These are issues where I find it hard to raise the energy to get involved in debate. The complaint, or the issue, is tiresome, often already done to death. As my kids would say "Get over it!" I find Jesus' words is this part of the gospel speak to me; the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.
The Law of Moses in Jesus time, and The Church Lore we have inherited over time were, at their best, given for us to help us grow us in faith. They were not given as rock-set, unchanging boundaries to life.
Yet so much of what people complain about seems to say "The Law," or some local custom, is immutable, and we are here to serve it, not God! It's as though they wish for us to be defined by rules, not by our relationship with the Divine.
Doctrine and custom are not scripture. They are a summation of some aspects of Scripture. They are a short hand for powerful and productive ways to live a life of faith. They are not fixed for all time. Times change.
Doctrines are well worn paths on which we may travel safely through the bush. They are not the only ways to travel. True, if we go on a new path we should take care; it may not be as helpful as we think. But as long as we are seeking God, the path is not fixed. The old paths- the Sabbath- were made for us, not we for them.
There is often a critical spirit in the church which betrays people's reason for being there. Instead of looking for a road to travel, people want a safe place to park. John Kenneth Galbraith once said, "Faced with the choice between changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof." Changing our mind, and going on a new path is hard and stressful. It is much easier to stick to the old rules, and criticise, than it is to do a new thing.
The new is hard. Boundaries let us feel safe. When we took our young children up to the vast wide-open central deserts of Australia where we lived as young adults, our normally cheerful son was grumpy and miserable. But as soon as we entered a gorge with its high walls, he would relax and race off and explore! Boundaries and well marked paths are good if they are helping us in our life.
So in this part of Mark we see people being picky and resistant. John's disciples fast. The pharisees' disciples fast. Why don't Jesus' disciples fast? This is picky, critical, fearful question type one: "Why don't you do what we do?"
Picky, critical, fearful question type two comes from the other direction. Some authority somewhere- some doctrine, and a doctrine here can be a person,- some authority has said, You shouldn't do 'X.' So the question becomes, "How come you do do 'X?'"
In Mark's story, this happens when they pick and chew on grain heads on the Sabbath. Jesus answer to the criticism takes the serious example of David eating the Bread of the Presence. Even in Scripture the Law is "broken," he says, because the law is made for us, not the other way around. So at a new time we can't just patch new insights onto the old garments of faith. It will just cause more tearing. We need to do things in a new way. We are free to do this; the law was made for us, not we for the law.
Some people will question us out of genuine curiosity and puzzlement. Even the fearful may respond positively to a new way when it is explained to them. But some will want us to conform to their law, which was written by some significant experience in their life. Gently, and with compassion, we are free to remember that God's Sabbath was made for us, not we for it. We are free to walk in the wide grainfields of new life, and are not bound to the narrow paths of a frightened church.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.