Posted on August 14, 2013
#15: The Heart of the Matter
Welcome to Knowing Jesus, our study through the book of Mark. Are you seeing Jesus more clearly as we go? I pray so. (Remember that earlier posts in this series are in the archives. Take a look, if you’ve missed any!) Grab your Bible. There’s more to learn!
Read Mark 2:23-28.
Also, take a moment to read Matthew 12:1-8 and Luke 6:1-5.
Last week, we saw Jesus urge the hard-hearted Pharisees to let go of rigid legalism and open their hearts to His “law” of love. This was challenging for people who had grown up submerged in the Law plus a myriad of added rabbinical rules. Their brand of righteousness was exhausting work—an unscalable mountain of do’s and don’ts.
Today’s scripture shows one specific instance of Jesus’ way clashing with their way.
Jesus and His disciples were walking through grain fields on the Sabbath. The hungry disciples began to pick heads of grain, rub them between their hands, and eat the sweet kernels inside. This was allowed in the Law (Deut. 23:25) but the strict Pharisees viewed it as reaping—work forbidden on the Sabbath (Ex. 34:21).
Now, note that not many Pharisees lived in Galilee or hung out in grain fields on the Sabbath. They were there solely to stalk Jesus, looking for any reason to oppose—or better yet, arrest—Him and His followers. (Note too that when the Pharisees had a gripe against Jesus, they cornered His disciples—see Mark 2:16, but when accusing the disciples, they approached Jesus—2:24. How typical of faultfinders to avoid the source!)
Imprisoned by Law
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Why are your disciples doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” The implication was clear: “Your devotion is lacking, as is your disciples’.”
Jesus’ response was just as clear. “You’re missing the heart of the matter, the abundance of life in Me. I’m Lord of the Sabbath: let Me worry about its use.” He then referred to Bible precedent—a legal retort to legalists imprisoned by their own will. He reminded them of a scripture they knew, when their beloved ancestor David broke the Sabbath law in a time of intense physical need (1 Sam. 21:1-6; Lev. 24:5-9).
Jesus wasn’t condoning indiscriminate breaking of the Law, but He was defending human compassion against brutal legalism—love versus law. For their own good, they needed to see the distinction. In their chiseled spiritual discipline, they had lost capacity for love, for generosity—for joy. Jesus came to restore it!
Set Free to Live
Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10b NASB) Not austere, dispirited existence, but dancing, loving, kindhearted, joy-filled, abundant life! Jesus wanted to set them free, but they had to be willing to walk out of their self-imposed prison, and they had to release others from the same confines.
For the Pharisees, the Sabbath had become another heavy burden. They’d forgotten its intent—a weekly spiritual pause to focus their faith, re-prioritize their lives, and celebrate the Lord who loved them. The Sabbath was meant to inspire a longing for God, not a list of rules.
One tell-tale sign of legalism is a lack of joy. Perhaps you know rule-bound Christians whose hard faces would crack if they laughed! Their critical spirits beat down everyone, including themselves. They’re sadly distant from the abundant life Jesus wants to give. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they’ve forgotten the heart of life in Christ.
This week, pay attention to your Christian walk. Would you describe it as joyful? or regimented? Is your life in Jesus abundant? or burdened? Do you need to refocus on the heart of the matter?
© Diane McLoud 2013