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Mark 2:23-3:6 – Being lord of the Sabbath

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

One sabbath Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields; 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.


This is the Gospel selection from the Episcopal Lectionary for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B 2018. The lessons of this Sunday are placed in a Proper Ordinary Time grouping, numbered Proper 4. This will next be read aloud in a church by a priest on Sunday, June 3, 2018. It is important because Jesus gives a lesson that doing God’s work on the Sabbath is why God commanding the Sabbath day maintained as holy.

In this selected Gospel reading, we are presented two separate accounts of events, both of which occurred on a Sabbath. They are separate in time because one story ends Mark’s chapter two, with the next beginning his third chapter. By seeing how this separation places a week’s time (minimally) between one event and the next event, then that time can be seen as either being when nothing holy enough was done by Jesus (not worth writing about), or the disciples were not full-time (twenty-four seven) attendants of Jesus. If the latter is assumed, accepting that Jesus did holy things at all times (too many to record them all), then the space between events speaks about Jesus’ needs and those of the disciples.

As far as Jesus’ needs, he was a teacher, a “Rabbi” (“Rabboni” in Aramaic). His disciples and family loved Jesus; but life has a way of making everyone need space.  For as much as many children love their second grade teachers in elementary school, that love does not mean living with their teachers.

Likewise, there was a purposeful place and time for teacher and students to come together. Jesus needed disciples to teach. Rabbis were employed by Jews to teach, such that a synagogue was more a “school,” than a place of ritualistic worship.  That was a separate environment to the one Jesus had with his family (the ones Jesus loved and kissed on the lips). This separation explains why the books of the disciples (Matthew and Mark [for Simon Peter]) only occasionally told of the same events told by the family (John and Luke [for Mother Mary]).

The disciples needed someone to teach them; but the disciples all sought the Messiah to learn from, not anyone less. Therefore, the two were predestined to come together, as teacher and students. Still, Jesus did not teach students how to always require a teacher, as that would mean holding back on their lessons, leaving them always needing to learn more. Likewise, the students did not seek to learn from a master that would not graduate them into the world as self-sufficient teachers themselves.

This means that Jesus knew each of his disciples well, in the sense that a dedicated employer knows his or her employees. Most of the time they are together when there is work to be done (the Sabbath), but other times they travel together, with other times joining for special occasions. Jesus and his disciples would also spend separate time with their respective families, each in their homes. This separation would have been greater in the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, allowing the disciples more alone time. However, as Jesus began attracting large crowds during the “pilgrim seasons,” his disciples would be expected to be more in attendance of Jesus, as those encounters with the common Jews would greatly enhance their education of spiritual matters.  The students needed to witness all aspects of a religious teacher teaching religion.

With this background established, keep in mind how Mark is telling the story of Simon Peter. Peter was the disciple who sat on the front row in the classroom and always raised his hand to ask questions. He was like a “teacher’s pet,” in the sense that Peter acted as an NCO (Non-Commissioned Officer, more like a Corporal than a Sergeant) among the disciples.

He was expected to hand out the graded papers and tests for the teacher, which he gladly did. Still, whenever Peter thought his extra duties made him the greatest of the students, Jesus would scold Peter and let him know he still had a lot to learn. It is from those eyes that these two events were seen.

In this first scene, when Simon Peter recalled, “Jesus and his disciples were going through the grainfields,” that was a statement of their poverty. None of them were farmers, so none of the owned land or planted their own grain crops, from which they were then plucking “heads of grain” to eat. They were not breaking the law that said, “Thou shall not steal,” as the outer ten percent (notice that figure has become synonymous with standard tithing?) of one’s crops were for the poor to pick from. This says Jesus and his disciples were poor, thus able to lawfully pick from the outer fringes of grain fields. The law they were breaking was the work they did “plucking heads of grain.” Probably, they were hungry and eating raw grain, but they might also be storing some in their leather pouches, to make bread from later. Thus, it was their work that was deemed unlawful.

Another understanding that is revealed in the same verse that tells of Jesus and his disciples walking through fields of grain is that they were headed to a synagogue in Galilee. The lawful limits of travel on a Sabbath (roughly one-half mile outside of a city) would probably make wheat fields too far from Jerusalem for that to be the location. As Mark prior wrote about John’s disciples and Pharisees fasting (“Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting.” – Mark 2:18a), that was a statement of either Tisha B’Av[1] [the ninth day of Av[2], the fifth month], setting the timing in early August, or Yom Kippur [3], setting the timing of early fall (September-October), as it falls on the 10th day of the 7th month (Tishri [4]). This also has to be prior to the festival of Sukkot [beginning 15 Tishri], when the harvest would have removed all grains from the fields.  The period between Shavuot and Sukkot (spring and summer) was when one would be home in Galilee, not visiting Jerusalem.

Because the chapter three event begins by stating, “Again he entered the synagogue,” this means the fast mentioned prior was then identified as Tisha B’Av, such that the following week would not be a required pilgrimage period. This means the Pharisees referred to, in both events, were those in the same synagogue of Capernaum. However, as Capernaum was a city of about 1.500 people, it could well be there were multiple synagogues spread about, making one be closer to grain fields and another more urban.

The first location is assured as around Capernaum, by seeing how Mark’s Gospel told of Jesus calling upon Levi (Matthew) to be one of his disciples, which occurred prior to the event of John’s disciples fasting.  By Mark stating, “Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them” (Mark 2:13), the “lake” was the Sea of Tiberius in Galilee.  This then makes both synagogues be in the same area of Galilee.

When we read how Peter was close enough to hear the Pharisees complaints to Jesus, this shows the teacher-student relationship. Jesus was a Rabbi, as were the Pharisees. Thus, the teachers were talking amongst themselves. Simon Peter was close by Jesus, as his star pupil. One set of teachers were complaining to another about the lack of teaching (or the lack of testing what had been learned), by the obvious actions of one’s students.  They gave signs of having no idea they were breaking the laws of Moses. Jesus then responded as a teacher speaking to teachers, as students might not be aware of the details in the story of David.

Jesus said to the Pharisees, “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.” That was like a slap in the face, because the Pharisees knew full-well the details of David, the most revered ruler of Israel.

Prior to David being made king, but after he had been anointed by Samuel as God’s chosen one to replace Saul, David was deemed a common criminal and hunted by Saul’s soldiers. David often hid in the fields, but David had those who helped him avoid capture.  David’s story said he did worse than the acts of Jesus’ disciples had done on a Sabbath, so Jesus was asking the Pharisees, “What crime would you charge David with?”

Naturally, there was no criminal offense possible for God’s chosen ruler of the Israelites. Thus, Jesus (once again) shut the mouths of the ones who called themselves teachers of religion and Judaic history, yet suffered from selective blindness that allowed them to see only what they wanted to see. They were always so busy trying to find the faults in others that they could not see their own faults.

It was this failure in teachers that endangered the learning capabilities of their students. By standing so close to Jesus that Shabbat morning, Simon Peter learned, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” That is not a lesson that could be found written anywhere in the Old Testament – stated that clearly – and it was a lesson that flew over the heads (the Big Brains) of the Pharisees. They had to think on that one for a while. However, two thousand years later the Rabbis of Israel still haven’t figured it out; but then neither have modern Christians.

I have found it very necessary to understand the root meaning of words as being most helpful in understanding why a word has been created. A word has to serve a purpose, beyond simply being a word. This means understanding the word “Shabbat” (as the root of Sabbath) is important, as it allows one insight into what Jesus just told the Pharisees. In that regard, and according to the article published that defines the word “Sabbath,” the website Bible Study Tools states:

“The origin of the Hebrew sabbat [שַׁבָּת‎] is uncertain, but it seems to have derived from the verb sabat, meaning to stop, to cease, or to keep.”

Please let that sink in before reading on.


The very next statement in the article entitled “Sabbath,” says:

“Its theological meaning is rooted in God’s rest following the six days of creation (Gen 2:2-3).”

Using their assumption that “sabat” means “stop, cease, or to keep,” this becomes the explanation for why there are only seven days in a week. A week stops after seven days (Sabbath day), and a new week has to begin once that end has been met. This is because time rolls on.  However, this stop becomes the deep intent of what Jesus told the Pharisees.

For Jesus to say, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath,” that can now be rephrased as, “The stop [God’s rest] was made for humankind, and not humankind for the stop [God’s rest].” That “end” is more important as a goal that has been set by God for mankind, more so than as some day at the end of the week that [“woe is me”] men and women have to honor, so the need has been sub-created by other men to create a checklist of dos and don’ts, by which Sabbath laws can be monitored.

In other words, Jesus just made the powerful statement that “the Sabbath” is when mankind stops living in a state of matter, with flecks of light and spots of darkness, part mineral, part vegetable, part animal and part human. It is then when mankind has reached the point of rest with God, because God has seen holiness and righteousness in mankind and deemed that good. It means Jesus just said David had reached a total state of being that made him be the Sabbath, so no laws of mankind could ever reduce him from that Spiritual oneness with the Lord.

The Pharisees were living as the lawyers of the Seventh day, teaching their students what time to show up for “church,” what to wear, and what to do and what not to do between 6:00 PM Friday and 6:00 PM on Saturday. Jesus, on the other hand, was teaching his students the Sabbath meant having the love of God in one’s heart, with a commitment made to serve God, so that whatever one does, at any time, on any day of a human week, is okay because God has rested with that servant, making that servant forever holy.

Once one stops being an ordinary thing of Creation and starts being righteous, then every day is the Seventh Day with God.

This is then how Jesus could add the clarifying statement that said, “the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” The literal Greek says this better in translation, such that Jesus actually said, “So then lord is the Son of humankind (from “anthrōpou”) also even of the week (from “sabbatou”).” Jesus was “the Son,” who was born of a woman, like all humankind. This means Jesus was “then lord” over the humankind part of himself, by virtue of his being led by the Will of God.  This “kingdom” was the domain of God at all times.

Rather than be “lord” over just one day – the seventh day of a week – Jesus, as the Son, was lord all seven days of a week. This is then not limited to only Jesus, as David also was the Son, by having been anointed by Samuel, chosen by God. David was also lord all seven days of the week.  So, he could enter the house of God and eat the bread of Presentation, and serve it to his followers, without ever breaking a law. Likewise, the disciples (not yet a full twelve, but all then and all who would later serve God in the same way) would be Sons, (including the female Apostles) being themselves lords (ruler over a Temple of flesh), who were chosen by God to be holy all seven days of every week.

In an article addressing this reading from Mark’s second chapter, Andries Van Niekerk published:

“The Jews, through their traditions, made man the servant of the Sabbath. They made Sabbath holiness the goal, and man the means to achieve this. But the Sabbath was created for man’s benefit. The Sabbath is the means and man’s welfare and happiness is the goal. For that reason human needs are always more important than the Sabbath,” (The Sabbath was made for man, “From Daniel to Revelation”:

I see this as a view that actually addresses this statement in verse 27, as an honest attempt to grasp why Jesus would make that statement. Most other websites offer minimal explanation of those words, instead skipping to next verse that makes it easier to be giving all honor and praise to Jesus, as “Lord of the Sabbath.” There is much that can be said in support of those interpretations; and Van Niekerk voiced similar views in his article. However, to see “man’s welfare and happiness as the goal” and “human needs” as the relevance of Jesus’ statement misses the point of one’s soul needing Salvation.

Salvation is one’s personal Sabbath.  It is the stop point of human needs, when God has deemed one holy.  Eternal life is no longer marked in calendars.

If Van Nierkerk is correct, then the Pharisees would have seen their welfare and happiness enhanced by the elimination of Jesus of Nazareth. Their human needs would be a thirst for unimpeded power and control over the lives of other Jews. For them to hear Jesus refer to the “Son of Man” and think that was anywhere close to saying “Son of God,” then that would be the blasphemy they sought. However, it was with ears that did not hear any capitalization applied to “lord” or “man” or “sabbath,” when they heard Jesus’ statements in verses 27 and 28.

The Pharisees most likely heard Jesus say, “The son of humankind [Adam?] is the ruler of even the seventh day.” This would have been heard by the same ears that had the clarification say, “The seventh day was because Adam was made [on the sixth day], and not about humankind for the sake of the seventh day.” Because that would have had no meaning to the Pharisees and was not anything that could be used against Jesus, they were left speechless. Being speechless meant they were disconnected from the truth of God’s Word.

Van Niekerk and other interpretations of this reading from Mark shows how easy it is for Christians to be likewise disconnected from the truth of God’s Word.  Just as the leaders of the Jews failed to offer meaningful interpretation of the Torah, Psalms, and Prophets, the same condition applies today.  The people search for answers, so people wanting to help feel obligated to learn that which confuses.  It never has been about how much knowledge your brain can store, as big brains always block out the truth that comes from connecting to God.

Again, to see this meaning in Jesus’ words requires one to stop thinking with the brain of a Pharisee and start hearing the message of Christ, where one is to start allowing God to control one’s mind and actions. Thinking that one only has to go to church for a couple of hours, for only one day a week (or less), is missing the point of all this Sabbath talk badly. Jesus did not allow himself to be nailed to a tree and die so all of mankind could play “children of the six days of Creation” 96.4% of the time (162 of the 168 hours in a week). God did not send His Son to be an excuse for sin – “Just say six ‘Hail Marys’ and then hold your breath for ten seconds, while clicking your heels together, and I forgive you,” says a priest.

The Pharisees obviously did not grasp the meaning of what Jesus told them because the very next Sabbath (one might assume the chronology to be a week later [5]) they were watching Jesus like hawks. They were in the synagogue with all eyes on Jesus, to see if he would do any work on the day that working was forbidden by Shabbat law. He might have confounded them when the Pharisees though the picking grains on the Seventh Day was work, by reminding them of the story of David; but they had another legal challenge up their tallits.

A tallit is worn by a Rabbi, like a shawl.

When we read, “a man was there who had a withered hand,” there is some degree of probability that the man was a plant, for the purpose of entrapping Jesus. He was truly crippled of hand; but ordinarily, Jews with visible physical abnormalities were deemed sinners, thus not allowed to worship with the normal Jews. He was allowed in as a trap for Jesus.  Because Simon Peter saw this man with the withered hand, the man was not trying to hide his hand from view. That means Jesus also saw this defect in the man, while also seeing the Pharisees watching and waiting for him to heal the man that they had let inside the synagogue.

In this story, which is also found in Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospels, Jesus should be seen as the invited reader and teacher of the scrolls. He would have been invited by the members of that synagogue in Capernaum, with the local Pharisees probably recommending his selection. Because we read that Jesus entered the synagogue, before calling to the man with the withered hand to, “Come forward,” Jesus entered after the synagogue had filled. As the one chosen to lead the Shabbat service, it is probable that Jesus was praying as the others assembled. His late entrance might then be seen as similar to the procession to the altar done in an Episcopal church (and others), where the priest enters last.

Once we read that the man with the withered had had reached the focal point of the synagogue, where the teacher would teach so all eyes could see, we read, “[Jesus] said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” The translation found in Luke 6:6 makes this be more clearly stated, as: “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?”

That became the lesson Jesus would teach. The “them” he asked (as the teacher before students of the Torah) was everyone present.

Answers, based on scriptural evidence, would have been welcomed, as a Jewish synagogue is a place where questions and debate are signs of caring about living one’s religion. Some response would have been normal. Everyone knew the Torah was a book of question marks; and having the floor be opened up for comments was usually an invitation for many to speak at once. However, no one dared to speak up on this Sabbath, as “they were silent,” including the rabbis called Pharisees.

Christian churches I have attended over the years are likewise mute (save a few scattered “Amens” from time to time).  This biting on tongues is then a hidden lesson that needs to be learned.

When we then read Simon Peter’s assessment of the situation as “You could hear a pin drop” silence, telling Mark to write, “[Jesus] looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart,” this was to everyone being silent. Jesus was angry at the lack of feeling in their hearts for the truth. Then, he was sorrowful for the same reason.  Their hearts were lifeless.

Such a response to a teacher’s question deserved the lesson that would then follow.  Jesus simply instructed the man with the withered hand to “Stretch out your hand.” That was the lesson in a nutshell.  His sermon was a command to a plant cripple to expose his malady.

Jesus’ question, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath?” was left for God to answer. Jesus’ question, “Is it lawful to save life or to kill on the Sabbath?” was likewise left up to God to answer. A synagogue filled with zipped shut mouths best be able to hear God answering with those cold, hard hearts, knowing the truth when it unfolded before their blind eyes, or they will feel like they went to learn some religion and got nothing in return.

This is not how lessons are taught in synagogues.

Without any assistant wearing a skimpy outfit with feather boas to distract the crowd, and without a wand in hand or any words saying, “Abracadabra,” we read, “He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.” God had answered the questions posed by Jesus. It was lawful to do good on the Sabbath, as God did good in healing the man’s withered hand. It was lawful to save life on the Sabbath, as God saved the man from being outcast from the teachings in the synagogue. The man’s life was saved because he could do good works with two good hands. He could do better works, works for the Lord, knowing God had answered Jesus’ questions when his hand was cured.

At least a few people knew what had happened; but none of them were Pharisees. We read, “The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against [Jesus], how to destroy [Jesus].” Their plan was to convict Jesus for working on the Sabbath by doing miracle cures. Yet, Jesus did not touch the man with the withered hand. Jesus did not tell him to be cured. Jesus simply asked a question about what was lawful.

After ignorance prevailed, Jesus simply told the man to stretch out his hand.  That was a command any doctor would have made routinely, had a man with a withered hand showed up for a cure.  If the man’s withered hand could not be stretched out, the doctor would have said, “Well, there’s nothing more I can do. You will always have a withered hand.”  Some might question if that is really work, regardless of whatever bill is submitted.

The sad thing is this reading has a heading (some translation versions) that says, “Jesus heals on the Sabbath.” That is what the Pharisees ran off to tell the Herodians. In reality, Jesus did nothing to heal that day. He asked a question to the congregation, but the only one listening was God. God answered. God healed the man with the withered hand on a Sabbath. The fact that Jesus, the Son sent by God was there, asking the right questions, helped – for sure. However, God did the healing that day.

As the Gospels reading selection for the Second Sunday after Pentecost, when one’s personal ministry should be underway, the lesson is twofold. First, an Apostle is one who does not “save a date with Jesus” every Sunday. The question heard asked to YOU is, “Is it lawful to call Sunday the Sabbath, when Jews for Jesus still call Saturday the Sabbath?” Silence is the answer, quite frequently.  However, the truth is ALL SEVEN DAYS are the Sabbath, when one’s soul has been cleansed by the Holy Spirit.

So, it is lawful to call Sunday the Sabbath. To not be righteous all the other days and hours … that is where one breaks the law.

Second, one can assume Mary the mother of Jesus, Simon Peter, and a few more disciples living in Capernaum (James and John of Zebedee, Philip, Nathaniel, Andrew and the newcomer Levi [Matthew]) were there. All of them would be Saints in due time; but all of them kept their mouths shuts when asked a simple question of Sabbath law. They were as mute as were the Pharisees and the rest of the Jews in the synagogue that day. Even the lame man did not speak up; but he might have been thrown out for speaking, so he had an excuse.

All of the characters in every story told about Jesus are reflections of the reader.  Jesus is the last person one should think he or she models.  See the guilt first.

Thus, the lesson here says a ministry for the Lord cannot be silent.  One has to do more than whisper to yourself, “I think it is good Jesus,” when Jesus asks a question.  One cannot minister to the Lord if one is too afraid to stand up for Jesus. Silence places one hand-in-hand with the Pharisees, running away to plot to destroy Jesus.

We go about doing what we want to do – be that plucking heads of grain from the gain fields and eating them or taking them home with us or be that seeing answers that others cannot see, but doing nothing to speak up. Like the Pharisees, we want to cast down judgment on the wicked; but then we wet ourselves thinking someone might be watching our wicked deeds and cast down judgment on us.

You don’t have to worry about any of that if you just attract God with you desire to know Him better.  All you have to do is marry Him when he proposes; and then let the love of God produce a newborn baby Jesus in you, who will replace your ego.  With that accomplished, then go out and minister to the needs of others seeking eternal bliss.

When all that is on your side, you’re good to go.


[1] Tisha B’Av is a day of sadness, which then marked the destruction of the Temple of Solomon by the Babylonians.

[2] Av is the fifth month, which is typically between late July and early August, which is when grains would be growing.

[3] Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement and, when it falls on a Shabbat, it is the only Shabbat that calls for fasting.  Otherwise, fasting is forbidden on a Sabbath.

[4] Tishri is generally between September and October, which is the time of harvest.

[5] Matthew’s Gospel implies it could have been the same day (Matthew 12:9), but Luke says it was “On another Sabbath,” when Jesus “was teaching..” (Luke 6:6)

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