Pastor Nelson Bonilla: 6-2-24  “Jesus and the Pharisees”

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Mark 2:26-3:6

The story we heard this morning begins with Jesus’ disciples going through wheat fields picking grains. They are not stealing grain. What they are doing is allowed by the law. Deuteronomy 23:24-25 say, “If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. If you enter your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.” Therefore, what the disciples were doing was not a legal problem. The intent or spirit behind the laws like Deuteronomy 23:24-25 was to show generosity and hospitality among the Israelites. The spirit of the law was to help people. So, what was the problem then? What concerned the Pharisees, is the fact that they were picking grains on the Sabbath.  

To the Pharisees, the disciples’ behavior was violating the mandate to observe the sabbath and keep it holy as Exodus 20:8 and Deuteronomy 5:12 say. So, they told Jesus, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” From the Pharisees’ point of view, the disciples should have prepared their food on the previous day, so they do not have the need to pick wheat on Sabbath. By saying that what the disciples were doing was unlawful, without saying it they were quoting the law, Exodus, and Deuteronomy. They were worried about the letter of the Law. To answer their question Jesus quoted not the law, but a Historical Book and reminded them a story from 1 Samuel 21, this was the event of David and his soldiers. “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 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.”

The High Priest gave David the consecrated bread and by doing so, he broke the law, yes, but he also saved their lives; and moreover, he helped David, the anointed king to continue alive and later become the king as God had decided. When the High Priest broke the law, he also helped God with his plans. Samuel does not mention anything about God being upset because what the priest and David did.  

Jesus reminded the Pharisees that the law was given by God to exercise compassion and love not to subdue anyone. The law was intent to give and preserve life, not to take it away. Jesus’ view of the Sabbath has good prophetic support, for instance the whole chapter 58 of Isaiah, links the Sabbath and fasting with compassion and social justice in the service of God, this chapter ends with a description of God’s blessing on those who will “call the Sabbath a delight” not a burden.

We can wrap up the Pharisees and Jesus’ arguments like this: the Pharisees were saying to Jesus, with their actions your disciples are breaking the law and not making the Sabbath holy. Jesus’ argument is, when the High Priest broke the law, with his action, he saved lives and helped God to fulfil his plans, the Sabbath was made for man, no man for Sabbath. The law is good as long as saves lives and serve humans.

The second part of our reading presents us with a similar situation. Jesus came to the synagogue; the Pharisees were there too, and they were watching him, and he knew it. This time Jesus is the one who asks. He called the man with shriveled hand to come forward and asked a question to the Pharisees: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” In the first part the Pharisees asked, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” Jesus used the opposite, what is lawful? He got no answer, and he healed the man. He answered his own question by doing good to the man. The Pharisees, those accusing Jesus and his disciples of not keeping the Sabbath holy also answered the question, they did evil, because Mark 3:6 says, “Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

With the healing of this man’s hand, Jesus did more than just “fix something that was broken.” With his healing the man also receives his ability to work and be part of the Galilean economy and he was able to provide for his family. The event from 1 Samuel quoted by Jesus in Mark 2 was a life saving event. The future king was saved, God’s plans were able to continue. The event in Mark 3 represents a restoration to wholeness and dignity. With this breaking-of- the- law- miracle Jesus was promoting life and human flourishing.

These two miracles shared by the Gospel of Mark and other miracles too, represent a challenge for every follower of Jesus every time we read and interpret the Bible. Do we read and interpret the Bible as the Pharisees did? Or as Jesus did. Who is interpreting better the spirit of the law? Jesus or the Pharisees?

            The Pharisees literally were keeping and protecting the word of the law; their interpretation was focused on the exact language used in the law, without considering its broader context or intent or even the wellbeing and the person. Compliance with the letter of the law led them to value humans made at God’s image and likeness less than the law.

                        They did not care if the disciples starve or get sick; for them Sabbath was most important, by keeping and honoring Sabbath they believed they were honoring God. Jesus interpreted the law considering the spirit of the law. He took into consideration the intention, purpose, and underlying principles behind a legal rule. Jesus looked beyond the literal text and considered the reason why God gave us the law. Jesus put the need of his disciples and the need of the man with shriveled hand before the law.

               Two were the principles Jesus used in his interpretations of the law, one “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for Sabbath.” And two “Which is lawful on Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or kill? With this Jesus is affirming that humans are more important than rules and laws and their lives and wellbeing are more important that any rituals.

               We live in times when in social media we can find a lot of people quoting the Bible, not interpreting the Bible but using it to support their agendas and ideologies and the way they do it is the same way the Pharisees did. We, Christians most follow Jesus’ example when we read and interpreted the Bible. Jesus in his praxis of the law used love and compassion. He even asked his disciples to love God but also their neighbor. When a woman who were caught in adultery was brought to him, he did not quote the law that condemned her. But he had mercy and forgave her.

                 Mercy and justice were the elements in Jesus’ interpretation, he often quoted Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

                        As we reflect on Jesus’ principles for interpreting the law, let us remember that at the heart of his teaching is a call to Love God and our neighbor. He teaches us to look beyond the surface, to seek the true spirit behind our actions, and prioritize mercy and compassion above all else. In our daily lives, let us strive to embody these principles. Let us remember that is not just the adherence to rules that makes us righteous, but the love and compassion we show to others.

                        May we go forth with hearts full of love, hands ready to serve, and spirits aligned with the teaching of Jesus.      

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