One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain.The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
- Mark 2:23-24
In today’s passage, the Pharisees ask Jesus the important question: “why?” Their story goes to some difficult and sad places throughout the gospels and they’re often portrayed as the villains in the narrative, but there was a time when they were curious, seeking, asking questions.
Let’s learn to have compassion on the Pharisees, lest we behave like them.
Their full question reveals something about their priorities. Here they see a group of men gleaning under the auspices of the Levitical laws around gleaning. God’s law provided for the poor in just this way.
The poor often don’t have reserves to tide them over. An unexpected bill can send those of us in this situation cartwheeling (and not in a good way). The need to depend on the kindness of strangers and neighbors can be exhausting and embarrassing. And the disappointment we feel when others can’t or won’t help can make us feel isolated and alone.
Why are Jesus’ disciples doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath? Why are they gleaning on the Sabbath?
The Pharisees look at the individual behavior and not the system behind it. They ask about the disciples’ activity and not their poverty. What would have happened if they had asked: “Why are they poor?” or “Why didn’t we set some food aside for our neighbors / visitors so they wouldn’t have to glean on the Sabbath?” or “What is so important to these men that they would be willing to suffer this indignity?”
The Pharisees had an opportunity to respond with compassion, with justice, and with grace. But they were so worried about the rule-breaking individual behavior. They were curious, but their curiosity was misdirected.
As we explore Sabbath as a community, what questions arise for you? What do those questions reveal about your attention and priorities? What other questions is the Lord inviting you to ask?