My daughter came home upset from school one day last week. She had been reprimanded by the teacher. Nothing too serious, but she really doesn’t like to be corrected. She came home questioning why she got in trouble. She thought the teacher was wrong. Here is the scenario.
The teacher had to leave the room. She told everyone not to talk and do their work. As soon as she left, naturally, everyone started to talk.
My daughter told her classmates to be quiet, saying, “We aren’t supposed to talk!”
Of course, this just aggravated everyone.
“I was just trying to get everyone to obey the teacher. Its not fair that I got into trouble, mom!” my little hypocrite complained.
My daughter’s story is universal. Everyone breaks the rules at some point, right? But the ones who break the rules while acting like they are our own personal authority, are particularly irksome. My daughter was so focused on everyone else’s behavior, she didn’t understand that she fell under the same authority as her classmates. It was not her responsibility to keep the class quiet. She was not the teacher. If she had recognized the teacher’s authority, she would have kept her own mouth shut regardless of what everyone else was doing.
In today’s story in Mark 2:23-28, we are taught the same lesson my daughter is learning. When we are a follower of Jesus, we acknowledge that HE is the boss. When we keep our eyes on Jesus as the authority of our lives, we become less concerned about what others should or should not do, and we focus on our selves. The answer to Christian hypocrisy, both in us and around us, is the authority of Jesus.
Then, it happened one Sabbath that he [Jesus] was passing through the fields and his disciples began to make their way picking the heads of grain. And the Pharisees say to him, “Look here. Why do they do what they aren’t supposed to do on the Sabbath?”
And he says to them, “Have you never read what David did when he had need and was hungry? He and those who were with him? How he went into the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and he ate the Bread of the Presence, which he was not supposed to eat? Then, he also gave some to those who were with him?”
Then, he continued saying to them, “The Sabbath came into being because of man, and not man because of the Sabbath. So then, who is Lord of the Sabbath? The Son of Man is.”
Three things this story is not about.
- Jesus is not saying to forget the Sabbath. As Jesus alludes, Sabbath was a gift to the Jews as a day off from work. It was a day of liberty for all: men, women, slave, free, young and old. It was a day to enjoy and focus on the presence of God. Ironically, on this Sabbath day, the presence of God was physically with them. But, the Pharisees were more concerned with the rules than the purpose of the Sabbath being fulfilled right in front of them. They could have enjoyed God. Instead they nit picked the rules.
- Jesus is not condemning the oral law or the written law. The Pharisees ask a valid question about the law that God had given to the Jews through Moses. Their question was not about their traditional rules surrounding Sabbath, but about the law itself. Exodus 34:21 clarifies that harvesting is not exempt from Sabbath rest. The disciples act of picking grain was an act of harvesting. It’s a valid legal point. Jesus’ responding question about King David is also about breaking a religious law the Jews were required to keep. Jesus is not delineating a difference between the oral traditions of the Pharisees but acknowledging a law of God was violated in both cases.
- Jesus is not comparing himself to King David. Jesus compares David’s actions to his follower’s actions. Knowing the Pharisees consider David an honorable and heroic figure, Jesus correlates his lawbreaking with his disciples. In doing so, he is appealing to their logic. He implies, how can you idolize David, a lawbreaker, yet nit-pick my followers who are also lawbreakers? Although there are parallels and foreshadowing between David and Jesus, Jesus is David’s Lord (Matthew 22:43-45).
The story is about Jesus’ authority.
Surprise, surprise. As we have seen all throughout Mark 2, Jesus answers every question put to him with his own identity. In this story, the first of many stories centering on what is lawful to do on the Sabbath, Jesus calls himself the Lord of the Sabbath. In modern lingo, Jesus teaches that he is “The Boss.” The rules are not in charge. He is. Being a Jesus follower is not so much about becoming a good person who follows all the rules, as it is about recognizing that Jesus is the Boss.
He is Lord. Lord of Sabbath. Lord of the law. Lord of all.
When my nephew was a little boy, his favorite thing to say was “You’re not in charge!” As youngest in the family, he had a lot of people bossing him around. He had to order his little world around who had the right to tell him what to do. He asserted his independence every time he got a whiff of command from anyone besides his dad. This little boy was impossible. But, his insistence is a picture of what Jesus is teaching in this story.
Jesus tells the Pharisees, “You’re not in charge.” He tells the laws of Sabbath, “You’re not in charge.” And he tells each of us, “You’re not in charge. I am.”
When we trust that Jesus is in charge, not ourselves, we are freed from enforcing the rules over others. My daughter, who was so bothered by the bad behavior of her fellow students, grasped an authority she did not have the right to. When we trust the authority of Jesus, we can trust that he is in charge even when people are breaking the rules all around us. We focus less on other people’s sin when we acknowledge his authority.
When we trust that Jesus is in charge, we are also freed to focus on keeping the rules ourselves. Like my daughter, focusing on obedience to her teacher simplified her life tremendously! She only had to do what she knew was right. She no longer felt responsible for the whole class. When Jesus becomes our Boss, we lessen the risk of becoming hypocrites ourselves.
And here’s the cool part.
When we trust that Jesus is in charge, he’s got our back. Unlike the law, and the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, Jesus does not condemn. He forgives. He welcomes rule breakers to a feast! Did you notice in this story that Jesus was aware that his disciples were “harvesting” grain against the written Sabbath law? He also knew David ate the forbidden Temple Bread. Our foibles, justified or not, do not take him by surprise. He is not even disappointed in us, because he has no misconceptions about exactly who we are. We are all rule breakers. But who is in charge of the rules? Jesus is.