Part 1: The Surprise | Part 2: The Son of God | Part 3: God Himself | Part 4: Lord over Evil | Part 5: Lord over Disease
In Mark 2 we find a confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees which ends with Jesus declaring himself to be “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mk 2.28). This is quite a statement. We, who have heard it since our Sunday school days, simply cannot grasp the megatonnage with which these words would have hit the Pharisees.
But before we can discuss that, we ought to look further back in the chapter to note the context in which Mark places this confrontation.
In an (apparently) earlier conversation, some of the Pharisees’ fanboys ask Jesus why his disciples don’t fast the way the Pharisees and John’s disciples do. Now this context is important; while the Law does not mention fasting, the Bible does command “afflicting your souls” on one holy day, the Day of Atonement (Le 16.29-31; 23.27-32; Nu 29.7)—which might well be an oblique reference to fasting. If Jesus kept the Law perfectly (and he did [Jn 8.46; 1P 2.22]), he would certainly have fasted at times when the Law required it.
We know that the Jews later developed fasting practices apart from biblical mandates. After the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, the Jews began fasting on key anniversaries connected with that event (Zec 7.5; 8.19). In particular, the Pharisees developed the practice of fasting every Monday and Thursday (Didache 8:1; cf Lk 18.12).
Jesus’ response to the question indicates that he has no need to follow extrabiblical traditions, even those recommended by significant religious authorities. But in that conversation he hints at something far deeper; he says that he is putting “new wine” into “new wineskins” (Mk 2.22). What could that mean?
Mark shows us in the next paragraph. Jesus and his disciples are walking through a grainfield one Sabbath, and they take some heads of grain, rubbing them between their hands to separate the kernels to eat. Ah, but the Pharisees, the religious leaders, have decided that such an action is harvesting—work. And this is the Sabbath. Clear violation of the 4th Commandment (Ex 20.8-11). This rogue rabbi is a danger to the social order.
At this point Jesus does not argue that he has a right to ignore the Law, because he’s God. Indeed, as we’ve noted, part of the purpose of his incarnation is to keep the Law perfectly, as a man, in the place of sinful men and women. Rather, he claims for himself the right to pronounce the true meaning of the Law, implying that he has perfect knowledge of the mind of the Law’s Author. There’s no denial of his humanity, or of his submission to the will of his Father, or of his submission to the Law as intended. He simply asserts that they, the experts in the Law (the Pharisees were a subset of the scribes), didn’t know what they were talking about.
He gives an illustration from the life of David, who ate the showbread from the Tabernacle—with the high priest’s assent—when he and his men were weak with hunger. You see, the Law was not intended to starve people, or to cause them harm; its purpose is their salvation, their rescue, their shalom. “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mk 2.27).
Jesus implies that David did not in fact break the Law, though in principle the showbread was limited to the priests. How did Jesus know that? He knows the mind of the Author—or more bluntly, he is the Author.
And so he concludes by stating how he knows these things:
The Son of Man is Lord also of the Sabbath (Mk 2.28).
Mark gives us other indications. He records the Transfiguration, where Jesus takes precedence over Moses (Mk 9.2-8). He records Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple (Mk 11.15-18), where he not only drives out the merchants but changes Temple policy on the spot (Mk 11.16).
He is in charge of the holiest precinct in all of Judaism.
He’s no ordinary servant.
Photo by Praveen Thirumurugan on Unsplash