PENTECOST II – JUNE 3, 2018
ST. MARK 2: 23- 3: 6
THE SABBATH LIFE
On the Sabbath: The disciples of Jesus picking and eating grain out in the field. This was clearly now Lawful.
Jesus gives example of David and his companions: they were hungry. Entered into the Temple of Jerusalem, in the most sacred part, and ate the bread reserved for priests. This was clearly not Lawful.
When people are hungry and without food, just what Law are they supposed to follow? David and his companions broke the Law. The ate the bread of the Presence, consecrated bread, reserved only for the priests. They dared to break the Law. They dared to eat the food of the privileged. Their sin was not really in eating bread. Their offense is greater than this. Their sin was that they dared to act like the privileged. They did what only the elites could do.
They inverted the rules: the Sabbath was made for us, and not we for the Sabbath. We can change the rules when people are hungry and starving without access to food. We have the power to create new rules. Did God not give Adam dominion over everything? We are not only children of Adam. Today, we are Adam and we have to take responsibility for whatever challenges we face. We have power, we have duties. We have obligations to correct what is wrong. We have to demolish what is unjust. We have to face evil and call it by its name. Today, the name of evil is hunger. Today the name of evil is: lack of medical care; The name of evil is: an educational system that fails to educate. A prison system that condemns the young and old to death. An unemployment situation that tears the heart out of families. The name of evil is a child without a book, a parent without a job, a home without the basic necessities. The name of evil is hatred and jealousy; it is violence and murder; it is injustice. And injustice does not just happen in courts; injustice happens on the job, in coffee shops, driving along the highway. Injustice happens even when you just look different from someone else. Injustice is what you see when a life is broken open and all that is human is poured out and desecrated in broad daylight.
We have to face this and call it by its name. That is what the Sabbath Life is. The Sabbath life is not surrender. The Sabbath Life is sacrifice. There is no value in surrendering your humanity. It will only be demeaned by the evil forces around you. Rather, each one is called upon to Sacrifice all that you are into order to create a new world for all. The Psalmist says, “The sacrifice to God is a broken spirit. A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not destroy.” We know what a broken heart is. We know what a broken spirit is. It is what we experience each and every day. A broken heart and a broken spirit is who we are, and this is what sacrifice is. The sacrifice of David and his companions was greater than the sacrifice of the priests. In it was the affirmation that God cares for you more than God cares for rules.
Jesus says “the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” How often have we just thrown away this verse! We hear it, and immediately it passes from our minds, for after all, “The son of Man” is Jesus. Today, we are tossing out old and tired ideas that have imprisoned our minds. The son of man is not Jesus. It is each one of us, born of Adam, born of our parents, born into this world that often does not see us, does not hear us, does not heed us, does not acknowledge that we are here, that we have been here for a long time, and that we are not going to move. Never, not now, not today, not tomorrow, not ever. We are here to stay. We are the son of man, the son of woman, the son of this earth and sea and skies. We belong, we belong here as much as the air we breathe and the water we drink. And because we are the son of man we have to power to change and to make changes. The son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath. We have the ability and the responsibility to look at the rules that have bound us and to break them into bits and pieces. We have the obligation to stop being bound by systems of injustice that care not a bit for us.
The gospel story shifts from the street and moves into the synagogue. There was a sick man there, one whose hand was withered. He was incapacitated. As we say, physically challenged. What would Jesus do? It was the Sabbath day. And this man according to the law should not even have been in the synagogue, for his incapacity made him unclean. An incapacitated man broke a great religious Law, and no one was challenging him. Instead, they were looking to see if Jesus was going to break the law.
The man’s hand was withered, whatever that means. We human beings are the only creatures on this earth that have hands. Real, true, authentic biological and physical hands. There is a reason for that. Without hands we are powerless. To have a hand is to have power. To have a hand is to have authority. To have a hand is to have ability. By hands we have accomplishments. By hands we have success. By hands we have progress. By hands we have freedom. By hands we have liberation. By hands we have equality. By hands we have dignity. What Jesus saw was a man that had lost all of that. The religious people did not see that. The religious people could not see that. They saw a Law being broken. They saw rules and regulations. The could not see people. What happens when religious people do not see this man? They cannot see because they are blinded by a Law that they followed blindly. We too are religious people, I use the word even though I do not like it. And we cannot follow our religion blindly for then we shall not be able to live the Sabbath Life. We must be focused constantly on what is within sight. We must see the sick, and their sickness must demand of us action that will bring relief. We must see the lame, and their lameness must demand of us action that will empower them. We must see the blind, and their blindness must demand of us the opening of our own eyes to lead them. We must see the hungry, and their huger must empower us to build a word in which there shall not be hungry people. We must see the homeless, and their homelessness must solicit from us the desire and the action to build a society that can house each resident.
The distressed, the grieving, the hopeless, the helpless. These are all people to whom we cannot close out eyes. The Sabbath Life demands much of us, but never so much as when we must risk all to hold onto what makes us essentially what we really are, God’s redemptive force on this earth. We are God’s Holy Spirit in the world, not some kind of invisible entity roaming the world touching lives here and there, the actual presence of God in the world.
The religious people were not looking for this. They were looking not to heal, but to accuse, not to help but to destroy. After all, they were the better class. They were the privileged. They were the elites. For them, to reach across some internally defined boundary to help another was to contaminate their soul. What shall it profit us to gain the whole world and then lose our soul? This was not their point of view.
Jesus of course healed the man who is the center of the story. Jesus invites him. “Come forward!” And from there on the story turns on something crucial for the Sabbath Life. Jesus asks, in light of all the holy laws, what is the right thing to do: To do good, or to do harm? To save a life or to kill? The religious people did not think this way. And then there was the great Silence! Living the Sabbath Life means that we cannot remain silent in the presence of evil. What the religious people felt towards this sick man was something evil, deep down in the roots of evil, that this man was less human than they were. They could not touch him for fear of contamination. He was infected. They could not see him as a human being with a complete soul, a complete spirit, a man totally complete like you and me with one exception, that he was physically challenged. The kept silent. That silence is also an infection. Not to speak when evil threatens is to speak more loudly through silence. Silence, a complete failure to activate the power of the word of God is the total denial of God and all that God stands for. Silence, the refusal to launch from within your soul the power of the word of God is an infection that eats away at ever last part of your soul. They kept silent. But there is another kind of silence that is redemptive. The story of the Good Samaritan is which all of us love. The Samaritan did not hesitate when he saw a Jewish person lying wounded at the side of the road. Samaritans and Jews had nothing to do with one another. He could have kept on his way, but he did not. He did not speak a single word in that moment. He saved a life. What is lawful, to save a life or to kill? That is the question.
When faced with the silence of the religious people Jesus became angry. The text says that he grieved because of the hardness of their hearts. I don’t know how often Jesus became angry at religious people, but I assume that he was frequently angry with them. But Jesus was not the kind of person to waste something as good and valuable as anger. He knew how to use it, or perhaps, anger knew precisely how to use Jesus. It moved him to grief, it lifted him out of the moment and in doing so transformed the moment into a turning point of human history. Anger can do that, if we don’t waste it on silly stuff. In the heart of transformative anger we find the purest kind of love that seeks nothing for itself. It makes the person into an instrument of God’s power to heal and to restore. This is what happened with Jesus in that moment. But his anger was also filled not only with love, but also with grief. We all know about grief. None of us has escaped it, even now, today, as we share our pastor’s grief. We grieve with pastor as one body in Christ taken up in grief. And grief has no time limit. When death comes to our home, it does not come to visit, it comes to stay. You all know that. You all live with that. Forget about the psychologists who talk about stages of grief. There are no stages of grief. You just can’t break it up into bits and pieces and say, this is one piece and that’s another. Grief descends upon us as a whole, complete and total, in one instant. Grief is not a feeling that we can have today and not have tomorrow. Grief descends upon us and takes up residence within and around us. It will leave us only when it is convinced we can make it on our own. Grief descends upon us for our own protection. It will hold onto us until our spirit has matured and our soul has recovered its strength. This runs all through the life of Jesus. He was called a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. For us, this is the Sabbath Life. He taught us this.
Jesus was grieved over their hardness of heart. He was grieved over their lack of compassion. Hardness of heart is lack of compassion, pure and simple. The Sabbath Life is compassion active in the service of God for the good of another human being. The Sabbath Life is compassionate life. Compassion means that you must feel for another just as you feel for yourself. When we are told to love our neighbor as we love ourself, that is the definition of compassion. That is what the Good Samaritan showed.
Anger, sustained by grief, acted out through compassion is what Jesus demonstrated. He said, “Stretch out your hand.” A very simple command, but full of undiscovered meaning. To stretch out your hand is to reach beyond yourself. Sickness, all sickness, turns us inward, where we are unable to emerge from deep within ourselves. Jesus says stretch out your hand, Jesus says reach beyond yourself. Healing, redemption, is always beyond ourselves, and we must reach out for it.
How do we stretch out our hands? In many different ways.
The man was healed. And what was the result? The religious people went out and sought ways to destroy Jesus. What did he ask? Is it lawful to do good or harm, to save or to kill? He gave his answer, and they gave theirs.
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