Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Proper 4, Gospel Reading

Mark 2:23-28

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

Reflection on Mark 2:23-28 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Here is a typical scene in the gospels' presentation of Jesus. It is a pastoral scene in the countryside. Jesus lives there quite naturally and at the same time quite spiritually.

Nevertheless, Jesus is under attack indirectly, for the Pharisees try to get at him by attacking his disciples' behavior. The disciples were doing what seemed natural enough when they were harvesting a small amount of grain to feed themselves. At the same time, as Jesus saw the matter, there was also a deeper spiritual rightness in what they were doing. Both their natural and their spiritual compasses were set to true North.

If the great King David one time ate the consecrated "bread of the Presence," and gave some of it to his companions on an occasion when they all "were hungry and in need of food" (I Samuel 21), then certainly the disciples' plucking some "heads of grain" was no irreverent act, no big deal. Moreover, said Jesus in effect, "we very well know it's the Sabbath, and there's no problem with that either." That small exertion on the Sabbath day when all work is normally prohibited was, after all, in the service of life itself.

"The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath." That was Jesus' guiding principle, a guideline fit for a life of unitary wholeness in both natural and spiritual matters. There are no sacred demands that prevail against the basic material needs of life and humanity. To the contrary, the life of the spirit is at one with the basic lan vital (life force) that was given to living beings by the Creator.

If an issue arises of alleged tension between matter and spirit, the issue is to be decided by the authority of Jesus. As Eduard Schweizer pointed out, the section Mark 1:14-3:6 focuses on the authority of Jesus. It is authority over demons, illness, sin, and the Law, and this scene (2:23-28) is designed to display Jesus' authority over the Law. The Sabbath and the regulations attached to it do not lord over Jesus' disciples, for Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. "Therefore, as Lord if the Sabbath, Jesus gives the Sabbath back to man to be a help; he does not lay it on man as a burden" [The Good News According to Mark, p. 73; Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1970].

The implications for environmental stewardship seem to be plain enough: our life is one of accountability to God's work in Christ, and that includes the life of sacred ritual, the life of conflict with established human authorities, the life of hunger and our relation to the natural world. As in this pastoral scene, so in our everyday living our decisions and actions are oriented toward the character of God made manifest in Jesus.

Care for the environment proceeds on the basis of Jesus’ sovereign freedom, as illustrated in this pastoral scene. Ecological responsibility also works out a kind of “critical traditioning,” as Ellen F. Davis describes it [“Critical Traditioning: Seeking an Inner Biblical Hermeneutic,” Anglican Theological Review, Vol. 82, #4, pp. 733-51]. She finds within the Bible itself that new interpretations arise “in response to new challenges.” Moreover, as in the case of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28), the new understanding “may come from those outside the tradition. I believe that something like this is now happening with respect to the ecological crisis, as Christians and Jews begin a more careful examination of biblical and theological traditions…” With the help of social and physical scientists, “a growing number of theologians, biblical scholars and congregational leaders are engaged in a process of massive recovery, bringing to light aspects of the Bible that had been wholly neglected for millennia, except by a few earthly mystics like Hildegard of Bingen, Francis of Assisi, Thomas Traherne, and Rav (Abraham Isaac) Kook” (pp. 750-51).

Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament Deuteronomy 5: 6-21
No reflections available
Psalm 81
No reflections available
New Testament 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12
No reflections available
Gospel Mark 2: 23-28
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John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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