Lord even of the sabbath

One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; 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?’... 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.’
— Mark 2:23-28

Jesus will compare himself to a mother hen. He’ll spell it out (Lk 13, Matt 23).

This mothering dimension of his ministry is detectable earlier on, however, for the careful reader of Mark’s gospel. Somebody picks on his disciples here in the second chapter and I can see the body language: Oh, so we’re going there?

It’s one thing to debate with the rabbi. It’s another to go after the new students. They are walking through a field because Jesus is walking through a field. They’re simply following; at which point the most religious of the religious take aim. “Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

We don’t know which piece of the disciples’ actions poses the problem. We know that they pluck heads of grain but we don’t know what they do with them and why. I’ve heard that they were hungry. However, I also know that a fair number of us have felt free to pull on Queen Anne’s Lace or to tug on wild blackberries. We humans like to touch (and sometimes take).

“Why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” Ask these Pharisees.

It is and it isn’t about the sabbath. Everyone in this story, Jesus included, believes that setting one day apart from the others is a rhythm given to them by God for the well being of the earth and all that is in it. The sabbath is not sabbath if folks count themselves as exceptions to the practice. They agree.

My take: I think that Jesus and company annoy the living daylights out of this band of detractors and that when we humans are annoyed, we criticize. We are not always fully in touch what is motivating our criticism. We can say that we are sticking up for the sabbath when we are generally and thoroughly irritated.

I think that one of the reasons Jesus says something as wild as the gist of verse 28 is because he knows that the deeper issue is not going to surface for healthy discussion. He says he’s the lord of the Sabbath. Which is kind of like saying he’s the boss. And the subtext here makes me smile.

Come at the hen, if you must, but not the brood. Gentlemen, you’re better than that.


Rachel May