Deuteronomy 5:12-15 2:16b; 2 Corinthians 4:6-11; Mark 2:23-28.

Turning Over Stones

Here are some stones I have overturned to see what ideas are underneath. I hope you can grab hold of something, pull -- and discover that it has some homiletic roots for you.

I am opting for Option B for the Gospel reading this week -- also known as the Shorter Form. This covers Mark 2:23-28.

As he was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain.

I suppose it is possible that the Pharisees might be gathered together in an area affording them a long view of a field of grain with a group of 13 men tramping through at a grain-picking pace; but this is more likely a constructed confrontation by Mark using true memories of events and sayings. Still, I can not resist picturing the confrontation as written with these two groups perhaps several hundred feet from on another exchanging their questions and answers by shouts with hands cupped to their mouths to give their words longer distance.

If you have ever been chased out of a corn field, apple orchard, or a strawberry patch as a kid (or an adult) you may also ask yourself about the accuracy of the setting in which Jesus and the disciples are pictured. Can a first century Jew walk into a field of grain which might have been the property of a private landowner and start lopping off the grain heads? Actually, yes.

In Deuteronomy chapter 23 it is written: When you go through the vineyard of your neighbor, you may eat as many of his grapes as you wish, but do not put them in your basket. When you go through a grain field of your neighbor, you may pluck some of the heads with your hand, but do not put a sickle to the grain of your neighbor.

However, this is where the prosecuting attorney would interject with Exodus chapter 34 where it is written: for six days you may work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; on that day you must rest even during the seasons of plowing and harvesting.

Even if the fields are ripe for harvesting and the market demand is high there can be no work. Further, the first reading from Deuteronomy would not even allow you to order a servant or two to pull a donkey into the field for a few hours of work on the Sabbath before the sun grew too strong; for it is written: The seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God. No work may be done then, whether by you, or your son or daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or ass or any of your beasts, or the alien who lives with you. Your male and female slave should rest as you do.

It looks as though the Pharisees have a good case against Jesus and his disciples. As aforementioned, they are not breaking the law by the action of picking heads of grain -- even if it is cultivated grain on what we would call private property today; for they are simply hungry; but rather it is their timing which offend the Pharisees. It is the Sabbath.

At this the Pharisees said to him, Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath? He said to them, Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?

Here is the scriptural text from 1 Samuel chapter 21 which Jesus cites in his defense: David went to Ahimelech, the priest of Nob, who came trembling to meet him and asked, Why are you alone? Is there no one with you? David answered the priest: The king gave me a commission and told me to let no one know anything about the business on which he sent me or the commission he gave me. For that reason I have arranged a meeting place with my men. Now what have you on hand? Give me five loaves, or whatever you can find. But the priest replied to David, I have no ordinary bread on hand, only holy bread . . . So the priest gave him holy bread, for no other bread was on hand except the showbread which had been removed from the presence of the Lord and replaced by fresh bread when it was taken away.

There has been some ink spilled on the discrepancy between the names of the high priest mentioned by Jesus and recorded in 1 Samuel. I think I will adopt the position that on top of one-upping the Pharisees Jesus also slipped in an inaccurate name to test the smarts of the Pharisees.

In any event, the defense of the actions of his disciples which is rooted in scripture has to do with the immediate hunger of traveling men and Jesus saw the close parallel between this story and the situation of the disciples and himself.

Then he said to them, The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.

Both chronologically and ideologically, the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. It is a help to man; not a hindrance.

HOMILY: A saying like of Jesus: The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath -- may not have fundamentally changed the Pharisees; but it may have changed the minds or the hearts of others who were in earshot of these words of Jesus. Life throws a gem like this to us once in a while.

We experience, read or hear something and we are changed. We see something more clearly, we reprioritize our lives, we hold new things dear to us, we fall in love all over again with a loved one or with God We gain wisdom. Near death experiences often serve as shortcuts to these kinds of actions too. In some sacristies that I have visited over the years a sign is hung above the door from which the Mass procession begins stating: Priest, celebrate this mass as if it is your first Mass, your last Mass, and your only Mass. It serves to focus, to clear the mind of distractions, and to aid us in remembering the intimacy that will take place between the people of God and their creator.

The Sabbath was meant to help keep focus, to clear the mind of distractions, and to aid in remembering the intimacy between humans and their Creator -- their refuge. Instead, the Pharisees used the laws of the Sabbath against a group of hungry men.

Sometimes we are our own worst enemies -- we are our own Pharisees. We take the true and beautiful meaning out of our own Sabbath by looking at it legalistically. We do not do it on purpose; rather we slowly slip into it without knowing. It is a slippery slope. We forget how the Sabbath -- and our Mass attendance is meant to bring us closer to God.

Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that we are here to worship God as a community, to receive his grace through the Word and through the blessed sacrament. This is a holy place, a house of prayer. Do we need to refocus, reprioritize, to think in a new way of our practice of worship? Have we been attending Mass out of duty or guilt rather than worshiping at Mass in love and out of thanksgiving? Is it time to make a change and think anew? Is it time to confront our own Pharisees that we have let slip into our lives?

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