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Gospel of Mark, 16 - THE SABBATH (MARK 2:23-28)

By G.A. Chadwick

      "And it came to pass, that He was going on the sabbath day through the cornfields; and His disciples began, as they went, to pluck the ears of corn. And the Pharisees said unto Him, Behold, why do they on the sabbath day that which is not lawful? And He said unto them, Did ye never read what David did, when he had need, and was an hungered, he, and they that were with him? How he entered into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and did eat the shewbread, which it is not lawful to eat save for the priests, and gave also to them that were with him? And He said unto them, The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath: so that the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath." MARK 2:23-28 (R.V.)

      TWICE in succession Christ had now asserted the freedom of the soul against His Jewish antagonists. He was free to eat with sinners, for their good, and His followers were free to disregard fasts, because the Bridegroom was with them. A third attack in the same series is prepared. The Pharisees now take stronger ground, since the law itself enforced the obligation of the Sabbath. Even Isaiah, the most free-spirited of all the prophets, in the same passage where he denounced the fasts of the self-righteous, bade men to keep their foot from the Sabbath (Isa. 58:13, 14). Here they felt sure of their position; and when they found the disciples, in a cornfield where the long stems had closed over the path, "making a way," which was surely forbidden labor, and this by "plucking the ears," which was reaping, and then rubbing these in their hands to reject the chaff, which was winnowing, they cried out in affected horror, Behold, why do they that which is not lawful? To them it mattered nothing that the disciples really hungered, and that abstinence, rather than the slight exertion which they condemned, would cause real inconvenience and unrest.

      Perhaps the answer of our Lord has been as much misunderstood as any other words He ever spoke. It has been assumed that He spoke across the boundary between the new dispensation and the old, as One from whose movements the restraints of Judaism had entirely fallen away, to those who were still entangled. And it has been inferred that the Fourth Commandment was no more than such a restraint, now thrown off among the rest. But this is quite a misapprehension both of His position and theirs. On earth He was a minister of the circumcision. He bade His disciples to observe and do all that was commanded from the seat of Moses. And it is by Old Testament precedent, and from Old Testament principles, that He now refutes the objection of the Pharisees. This is what gives the passage half its charm, this discovery of freedom like our own in the heart of the stern old Hebrew discipline, as a fountain and flowers on the face of a granite crag, this demonstration that all we now enjoy is developed from what already lay in germ enfolded in the law.

      David and his followers, when at extremity, had eaten the shewbread which it was not lawful for them to eat. It is a striking assertion. We should probably have sought a softer phrase. We should have said that in other circumstances it would have been unlawful, that only necessity made it lawful; we should have refused to look straight in the face the naked ugly fact that David broke the law. But Jesus was not afraid of any fact. He saw and declared that the priests in the Temple itself profaned the Sabbath when they baked the shewbread and when they circumcised children. They were blameless, not because the Fourth Commandment remained inviolate, but because circumstances made it right for them to profane the Sabbath. And His disciples were blameless also, upon the same principle, that the larger obligation overruled the lesser, that all ceremonial observance gave way to human need, that mercy is a better thing than sacrifice.

      And thus it appeared that the objectors were themselves the transgressors; they had condemned the guiltless.

      A little reflection will show that our Lord's bold method, His startling admission that David and the priests alike did that which was not lawful, is much more truly reverential than our soft modern compromises, our shifty device for persuading ourselves that in various permissible and even necessary deviation from prescribed observances, there is no real infraction of any law whatever.

      To do this, we reduce to a minimum the demands of the precept. We train ourselves to think, not of its full extension, but of what we can compress it into. Therefore, in future, even when no urgency exists, the precept has lost all beyond this minimum; its sharp edges are filed away. Jesus leaves it to resume all its energy, when mercy no longer forbids the sacrifice.

      The text, then, says nothing about the abolition of a Day of Rest. On the contrary, it declares that this day is not a Jewish but a universal ordinance, it is made for man. At the same time, it refuses to place the Sabbath among the essential and inflexible laws of right and wrong. It is made for man, for his physical repose and spiritual culture; man was not made for it, as he is for purity, truth, and godliness. Better for him to die than outrage these; they are the laws of his very being; he is royal by serving them; in obeying them he obeys his God. It is not thus with anything external, ceremonial, any ritual, any rule of conduct, however universal be its range, however permanent its sanctions. The Sabbath is such a rule, permanent, far-reaching as humanity, made "for man." But this very fact, Jesus tells us, is the reason why He Who represented the race and its interests, was "Lord even of the Sabbath."

      Let those who deny the Divine authority of this great institution ponder well the phrase which asserts its universal range, and which finds it a large assertion of the mastery of Christ that He is Lord "even of the Sabbath." But those who have scruples about the change of day by which honor is paid to Christ's resurrection, and those who would make burdensome and dreary, a horror to the young and a torpor to the old, what should be called a delight and honorable, these should remember that the ordinance is blighted, root and branch, when it is forbidden to minister to the physical or spiritual welfare of the human race.

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See Also:
   Gospel of Mark, 1 - THE BEGINNING OF THE GOSPEL (MARK 1:1-6)
   Gospel of Mark, 2 - AT THE JORDAN (MARK 1:7-11)
   Gospel of Mark, 3 - AT THE JORDAN cont. (MARK 1:7-11)
   Gospel of Mark, 4 - THE TEMPTATION (MARK 1:12,13)
   Gospel of Mark, 6 - TEACHING WITH AUTHORITY (MARK 1:21,22)
   Gospel of Mark, 7 - MIRACLES (MARK 1:23)
   Gospel of Mark, 8 - THE DEMONIAC (MARK 1:23-28)
   Gospel of Mark, 9 - A GROUP OF MIRACLES (MARK 1:29-34)
   Gospel of Mark, 10 - JESUS IN SOLITUDE (MARK 1:35-39)
   Gospel of Mark, 11 - THE LEPER (MARK 1:40-45)
   Gospel of Mark, 12 - THE SICK OF THE PALSY (MARK 2:1-12)
   Gospel of Mark, 13 - THE SON OF MAN (MARK 2:10)
   Gospel of Mark, 14 - THE CALL AND FEAST OF LEVI (MARK 2:13-17)
   Gospel of Mark, 16 - THE SABBATH (MARK 2:23-28)
   Gospel of Mark, 17 - THE WITHERED HAND (MARK 3:1-6)
   Gospel of Mark, 18 - THE CHOICE OF THE TWELVE (MARK 3:7-19)
   Gospel of Mark, 19 - CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TWELVE (MARK 3:14-19)
   Gospel of Mark, 20 - THE APOSTLE JUDAS (MARK 3:19)
   Gospel of Mark, 21 - CHRIST AND BEELZEBUB (MARK 3:20-27)
   Gospel of Mark, 22 - "ETERNAL SIN" (MARK 3:28,29)
   Gospel of Mark, 23 - THE FRIENDS OF JESUS (MARK 3:31-35)
   Gospel of Mark, 24 - THE PARABLES (MARK 4:1,2,10-13)
   Gospel of Mark, 25 - THE SOWER (MARK 4:3-9,14-20)
   Gospel of Mark, 26 - THE SOWER cont. (MARK 4:3-9,14-20)
   Gospel of Mark, 27 - LAMP AND STAND (MARK 4:21-25)
   Gospel of Mark, 28 - THE SEED GROWING SECRETLY (MARK 4:26-29)
   Gospel of Mark, 29 - THE MUSTARD SEED (MARK 4:30-34)
   Gospel of Mark, 30 - FOUR MIRACLES (MARK 4:39)
   Gospel of Mark, 31 - THE TWO STORMS (MARK 4:35-41)
   Gospel of Mark, 32 - THE DEMONIAC OF GADARA (MARK 5:1-20)
   Gospel of Mark, 33 - THE MEN OF GADARA (MARK 5:14-20)
   Gospel of Mark, 34 - WITH JAIRUS (MARK 5:21-43)
   Gospel of Mark, 35 - WITH JAIRUS cont. (MARK 5:21-43)
   Gospel of Mark, 36 - REJECTED IN HIS OWN COUNTRY (MARK 6:1-6)
   Gospel of Mark, 37 - THE MISSION OF THE TWELVE (MARK 6:7-13)
   Gospel of Mark, 38 - HEROD (MARK 6:14-29)
   Gospel of Mark, 39 - BREAD IN THE DESERT (MARK 6:30-46)
   Gospel of Mark, 40 - UNWASHEN HANDS (MARK 6:53-7:13)
   Gospel of Mark, 41 - THINGS WHICH DEFILE (MARK 7:14-23)
   Gospel of Mark, 42 - THE CHILDREN AND THE DOGS (MARK 7:24-30)
   Gospel of Mark, 43 - THE DEAF AND DUMB MAN (MARK 7:31-37)
   Gospel of Mark, 44 - THE FOUR THOUSAND (MARK 8:1-10)
   Gospel of Mark, 45 - THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES (MARK 8:11-21)
   Gospel of Mark, 46 - MEN AS TREES (MARK 8:22-26)
   Gospel of Mark, 47 - THE CONFESSION AND THE WARNING (MARK 8:27-32)
   Gospel of Mark, 48 - THE REBUKE OF PETER (MARK 8:32-9:1)
   Gospel of Mark, 49 - THE TRANSFIGURATION (MARK 9:2-8)
   Gospel of Mark, 50 - THE DESCENT FROM THE MOUNT (MARK 9:9-13)
   Gospel of Mark, 51 - THE DEMONIAC BOY (MARK 9:14-29)
   Gospel of Mark, 52 - JESUS AND THE DISCIPLES (MARK 9:28-37)
   Gospel of Mark, 53 - OFFENSES (MARK 9:38-50)
   Gospel of Mark, 54 - DIVORCE (MARK 10:1-12)
   Gospel of Mark, 55 - CHRIST AND LITTLE CHILDREN (MARK 10:13-16)
   Gospel of Mark, 56 - THE RICH INQUIRER (MARK 10:17-22)
   Gospel of Mark, 57 - WHO THEN CAN BE SAVED? (MARK 10:23-31)
   Gospel of Mark, 58 - CHRIST'S CUP AND BAPTISM (MARK 10:35-40)
   Gospel of Mark, 59 - THE LAW OF GREATNESS (MARK 10:41-45)
   Gospel of Mark, 60 - BARTIMAEUS (MARK 10:46-52)
   Gospel of Mark, 61 - THE TRIUMPHANT ENTRY (MARK 11:1-11)
   Gospel of Mark, 62 - THE BARREN FIG-TREE (MARK 11:12-14,20-25)
   Gospel of Mark, 63 - THE SECOND CLEANSING OF THE TEMPLE (MARK 11:15-19)
   Gospel of Mark, 64 - THE BAPTISM OF JOHN, WHENCE WAS IT? (MARK 11:27-33)
   Gospel of Mark, 65 - THE HUSBANDMEN (MARK 11:1-12)
   Gospel of Mark, 66 - THE TRIBUTE MONEY (MARK 12:13-17)
   Gospel of Mark, 67 - CHRIST AND THE SADDUCCEES (MARK 12:18-27)
   Gospel of Mark, 68 - THE DISCERNING SCRIBE (MARK 12:28-34)
   Gospel of Mark, 69 - DAVID'S LORD (MARK 12:35-40)
   Gospel of Mark, 70 - THE WIDOW'S MITE (MARK 12:41-44)
   Gospel of Mark, 71 - THINGS PERISHING AND THINGS STABLE (MARK 13:1-7)
   Gospel of Mark, 72 - THE IMPENDING JUDGMENT (MARK 13:8-16)
   Gospel of Mark, 73 - THE CRUSE OF OINTMENT (MARK 14:1-9)
   Gospel of Mark, 74 - THE TRAITOR (MARK 14:10-16)
   Gospel of Mark, 75 - THE SOP (MARK 14:17-21)
   Gospel of Mark, 76 - BREAD AND WINE (MARK 14:22-25)
   Gospel of Mark, 77 - BREAD AND WINE cont. (MARK 14:22-25)
   Gospel of Mark, 78 - THE WARNING (MARK 14:26-31)
   Gospel of Mark, 79 - IN THE GARDEN (MARK 14:32-42)
   Gospel of Mark, 80 - THE AGONY (MARK 14:34-42)
   Gospel of Mark, 81 - THE AGONY cont. (MARK 14:34-42)
   Gospel of Mark, 82 - THE ARREST (MARK 14:43-52)
   Gospel of Mark, 83 - BEFORE CAIAPHAS (MARK 14:53-65)
   Gospel of Mark, 84 - THE FALL OF PETER (MARK 14:66-72)
   Gospel of Mark, 85 - PILATE (MARK 15:1-20)
   Gospel of Mark, 86 - CHRIST CRUCIFIED (MARK 15:21-32)
   Gospel of Mark, 87 - THE DEATH OF JESUS (MARK 15:33-41)
   Gospel of Mark, 88 - CHRIST RISEN (MARK 16:1-18)
   Gospel of Mark, 89 - THE ASCENSION (MARK 16:19-20)


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