Second Sunday of Pentecost

Second Sunday of Pentecost

Gospel: Mark 2:23-3:6

A reading from the Gospel of Mark.
Glory to you, O Lord.

One sabbath [Jesus] was going through the grain fields; 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.

The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to you, O Christ.

Now let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you O Lord, our strength and Redeemer


Well that didn’t take long! Welcome back to Mark’s Gospel, and right off the bat at the beginning of Chapter 2, Jesus starts arguing with the religious authorities. And he doesn’t stop until what we hear today at the beginning of Chapter 3.

Earlier in chapter 2:

  • The scribes object to Jesus’ healing of a paralyzed man (2:1-12); 
  • Then the scribes of the Pharisees object that Jesus is eating with sinners and tax collectors (2:15-17); 
  • And then people challenge Jesus because they see John’s disciples and the Pharisees fasting, but Jesus’ own disciples do not fast (2:18-21). 
  • Finally, in this weekend’s text we see Jesus, over the course of two incidents, disagreeing with the Pharisees about how the Sabbath should be used.

As we observe these disagreements, we might gloss over them as we cheer Jesus on for his defiance of outdated religious rules and customs. But there’s something to take away from the differences in what each side believes about Sabbath observance. When it comes down to it, neither one is wrong; they simply have a difference of opinion.This gives us something to think about when we look deeper at how differently we view other things in the church.

Friends, in our hurried, overcrowded, hectic lives, it is very easy to overlook Sabbath observance. In fact, often seems countercultural to claim a day of rest. How we engage our text this week can enable us to explore our use of the Sabbath, and how we might become faithful stewards of a day of rest. Of all the gifts in our lives, days of rest might very well be one of the most difficult to accept and use faithfully. 


At first glance, our Gospel lesson appears to be about Sabbath observance. Jesus is twice chastised for breaking the community’s rules about how one should obey the commandment to “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.” 

The Ten commandments are laid out in the Old Testament in two places, first in outline form in Exodus, chapter 20, then in more elaborate, explanatory form in our reading from Deuteronomy 5. 

Over time, like states and counties and little towns trying to figure out how to protect the Sabbath, various groups created codes for what you could and couldn’t do. The Pharisees were the most strict of these groups. Their rules were drenched in legalistic logic, and were considered ironclad, no exceptions.

On this occasion, Jesus and his disciples were walking through a grain field, and the disciples started plucking heads of grain. By this time, Jesus had begun to have a large following and had drawn the attention of the Pharisees who saw him as a possible rival. He was under their microscope. Now Jesus and his peeps didn’t just go trespassing through a farmer’s field, they were following a public path open to all in which the grain was close at hand on both sides. The Pharisees immediately pounced, “AHA! Look at that, they’re harvesting! That’s a no-no. That’s work!” Whether the disciples absent-mindedly stripped off a few stalks to look at them or intended to eat them, Mark does not say. But Jesus’ answer indicates they were eating. He says, “Hey, chill! Remember David and his army eating the bread of the Presence in the Temple? That was against the rules too. But they were starving so it was okay!” Then he adds the moral “The sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath!”

The text makes the point a second time with a story about Jesus healing a man in the synagogue, again on the Sabbath. This time, before doing anything, Jesus looked at the people watching him and put THEM on the spot. And they said nothing. They knew the right answer. They also knew that to say it out loud would cut the legs out from under their rules and regulations. Jesus got angry at their “hardness of heart,” and they got angry at Jesus for defying their rules by healing the man anyway. 

Notice the last line of our lesson, verse 3:6 “The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.”

As I said, at first glance this text appears to be about Sabbath observance, but I think it’s about more. It’s about God’s love for humanity, about humanity’s habit of turning gifts into obligations, and about our often we have narrow-minded hardness of heart when it comes to loving others with the same kind of unconditional love with which God has loved us.

The Law, the Torah, the Teaching, was given to the Children of Israel, and through them, to all God’s people, as a gift, not a burden. It is a gift that teaches us how to live as God’s people in God’s way on God’s earth. In the story in Exodus, they were recently released slaves who knew nothing about governing themselves. All they knew was how to obey the master and defend themselves against the other slaves. Now they were a free people who had to learn how to act like a free people. And God gave them a gift of guidance in good living.

And they immediately started messing it up by turning a gift into an obligation. They started adding rules upon rules, regulations upon regulations, making sure they did not violate “God’s Law.” After a while, they forgot that the sabbath had been established as a gift of rest and recreation, a gift to make sure people didn’t work themselves to death as they had while they were in slavery. The sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath. New rules popped up: “Even if you’re hungry, don’t work to eat on the Sabbath. Even if the patient’s dying, don’t heal them on the sabbath.” What foolishness! Good thing we’re not like that!

Or maybe we are. Do we sometimes let our self-made rules and regulations, our pride and prejudice, our preferences and privilege, blind us to the ways that doing things how we prefer, and think is right often hurts and harms others? 

We in the modern church intend to be inclusive, with open doors and open hearts, but sometimes we fail because, like the Pharisees in Mark’s story, we have hard hearts and blinded eyes, failing to see the unintended fallout of our actions.

The Gospel for us today is that God has come in Christ to open our eyes and soften our hearts. We are called to do our very best in serving Christ and neighbor. We are called to do our very best in breaking down the barriers that keep others from hearing and seeing God’s love in all we say and do. We are called to do our very best to do good and not harm on the sabbath and every other day. And God will be with us, enlightening the eyes of our hearts so that we may always see and love others as Christ first loved us.


There are so many issues in our world today that impact human dignity and freedom. Human trafficking, domestic violence, sexual harassment, poverty, racism, religious conflict, and the marginalization of so many people for insignificant reasons, all bring such suffering and indignity to human beings. The challenge this brings to people of faith is twofold. Firstly, as a global community of those who claim to follow Christ, we cannot avoid the call of God to embrace Jesus’ way of welcome and uplifting others. Unfortunately faith communities are too often exclusive, judgmental of those who believe differently, and legalistic in their application of what they consider to be God’s law. As a result we live in a world where religious conflict threatens the peace of our planet, and causes great suffering to far too many people. We live in a world where women, people of color, the poor, and people of the LGBTQIA+ community are all robbed of dignity and freedom by people of faith. And we live in a world where foreign policies of major powers are shaped by exclusive theology and belief systems.

Secondly, our calling as Church is to be a community that reflects God’s Reign to the world. 

  • This means that we cannot follow Jesus and stay silent with regard to these injustices against God’s people. 
  • We cannot ignore the indignities that so many of God’s beloved children endure on a daily basis. 
  • And we cannot believe that we can please God by remaining in closed communities. 

We are called to be active in challenging injustice, and we are called to stand with those who are marginalized and to love them as Jesus did, seeking in whatever way we can to celebrate their inherent dignity and humanity. May we find ways to proclaim God’s just and dignifying agenda, and ways to live it out publicly as followers of Jesus so that we have some impact on our societies in making justice a reality.

In our church community we do not have to embark on grand projects or public events in order to be inclusive, prophetic and affirming of the dignity of all human beings. 

  • We simply have to be wiling to greet all who enter our sanctuaries. 
  • We simply need to be firm in confronting those who deny dignity to others. 
  • And we simply need to be inviting, welcoming, loving, supportive, and affirming of all people. 

May we who follow Jesus be open and loving communities in which all who gather with us feel honored, protected, dignified, and challenged to live into the fullness of our common, Christ-like love of humanity.


Fulfilling the sabbath unleashes goodness—it does not restrain goodness.

The purpose of the sabbath is to help us become the kind of people who resist doing harm and evil by reorienting ourselves towards the God who is good and always working for redemption. 

In the Pharisee’s world of rules, the only option Jesus would have been to ignore this man in need and deny his own ability to help. No hope for flourishing, well-being, shalom. Though the Pharisees made caveats for life-saving interventions, only the most extreme need could elicit “law-breaking” and according to those rules, this man wasn’t suffering enough.

It’s worth noting that Jesus likens their inaction with causing harm and doing evil. The Lord of the sabbath is telling us that our self-preservation or law-keeping, cannot come at the cost of our neighbor—even on a sliding scale.

After all, when we gather on our sabbath days for worship, we are meant to be reoriented to the law’s purpose of experiencing the redemptive and transforming work of the Spirit that makes us more Christlike. More like the one who fulfilled the spirit of the law and showed us its purpose, which is to be like God the Creator, who made everything good and blessed others with it.

Erring on the side of doing good may ruffle some feathers and make you some enemies, but it is the Jesus way.