Mark 2:23-28: A Sabbath of Small, Particular Interventions
23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: 26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
I wonder, sometimes, what a Sabbath is.
Apparently it was okay that David entered the temple to eat the bread he wasn’t supposed to eat because, hunted and hungry as he was, something about going into that temple and eating that bread spoke to what bread was for, and what a temple was for. That a temple wasn’t just about obedience but had something to do with real questions of daily hunger, real deliverance, and deadly peril.
Is the point of the passage that Christ gets to decide what is and isn’t Sabbath. Maybe so. But I think, also, that these men, plucking the heads of the grain, were being fed by God who, as it were, held out the grain to them when they passed by when otherwise they would not have eaten.
With Sabbath we don’t just stop working, we let Christ attend to our creatureliness, our vulnerability, to the contingencies and daily peril of just getting by. On a Sabbath, we let Christ attend to our frailty.
Sometimes, the Lord says, “Come after me.” On those days my life in Christ is adventure and challenge.
Sometimes, like this week, it is as if the says, “You're limping. Stay still until I find you. Stand still until I come to you.” You feel yourself held be God in a way that makes you feel deeply your own weakness. And this understanding would put you to shame if not for its sweetness. You understand Christ doesn’t just call you to follow him, he tends to you when you can’t. That kind frailty is a Sabbath frailty. That frailty is not something to get over, it is something to accept and deepen as part of our life in Christ.
The poor, it seems, get it better than we do. They are aware that there is less separating us from collapse than we think. That life is a continual miracle of skating across of unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances. They are tender over the details of each others lives, watchful over each others comings and going, paychecks and doctor visits. They keep up with each other's small things. You sometimes get the sensation they are making too big of a deal out of the details of each other’s life: over the food at the soup kitchen, over what kind of donut they get, what they want in their coffee. But they are aware, more than we, of the particulars of mercy. That getting by is about small, tender, and particular interventions. Grains to pluck.
A good Sabbath is an awareness of our frailty as well as how salvation is embedded in the particulars of mercy: holding hands, checking in, making meals, catching up, asking how things went. And waiting for Christ to tend to us.