“Jesus: Lord of Sabbath”

Mark 2:23-3:6

3 June 2018

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor

East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches

Mark 2:23-3:6 (http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=394599217)



The interpretation of scripture

Is a time honored tradition.

I do it nearly every day

And proclaim my results nearly every Sunday.


Every occasion when the Word of God is proclaimed

The preacher is charged with the revered responsibility

Of interpretation.

It’s a sacred responsibility I take seriously.


If only scripture was simple, straight forward, and required no interpretation.



Interpretation implies an objective Truth served up in the Gospel,

Coupled with a subjective experience and influence of the Holy Spirit.

This is why two different preachers will have

Two different interpretations of the same scripture lesson.

Each has an unique point of view, background experience, culture, gender, economic status, Biblical and theological education.

Each is subjectively, personally moved by the Holy Spirit of God.


My father,

A tenured ordained elder in the United Methodist Church,

And I had a difference of interpretation of the third commandment



As found in Exodus 20:8

“Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.”

and Deuteronomy 5:12

“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.”


For my father,

That meant no work on Sundays:

You don’t mow the lawn.

No house cleaning.

You don’t catch up on odd jobs around the house.

You don’t even go golfing.

Sundays were reserved for going to church,

Having a large family meal after church,

And lounging around the house for the rest of the day.


What a waste of the afternoon, I’d often thought as a child.


His Sabbath world view

Was about the prohibition of work

And keeping the day holy by attending worship.

These values are deeply instilled within me,

For which, I am eternally grateful.


Yet, I have come to discover,

Or, it has been revealed to me,

There is much more here,

Highlighted in the Gospel

For us to interpret and apply.

The Spirit moves.

The Lord gives

Essential truths that even challenge and change

The way I had always understand Sabbath.  


In the same tradition as my father and I drawing different conclusions,

The Pharisees and Jesus came to completely different

Interpretations of the third commandment,

As recorded in two different locations:

In Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.


The worldview of Pharisees in context of ancient Israel

Is very different from ours today.



Pharisees saw the world

In the context of Roman occupation,

A complex Temple economy,

With an upstart, potentially destabilizing, self-proclaimed Messiah

From the rural north country of Galilee coming to Jerusalem.


The Pharisees viewed the world in crisis and political turmoil.

On the one hand,

The world was a place of opportunity;

Privilege, wealth, and status.

On the other hand,

The world was in great jeopardy during a dangerous time.


Thank goodness the Pharisee didn’t have Facebook!


Pharisees saw the Ten Commandments,

The Law,

As a list of prohibitions

Given by God to God’s chosen people,

To keep community stability.

For the most part, I agree with their interpretation,

Just as my father did.


The Ten Commandments were finite, literally set in stone,

And needed another 613 commandments,

Called “mitzvoth”,

To fully interpret and expound upon these ten.



Jesus had a more expansive worldview.

Jesus was frying other fish.

He saw things differently.

His interpretation was so potentially destabilizing

The Pharisees and Herodians conspired against him,

“How to destroy him,” Mark recorded. (3:6)


Jesus didn’t see the third commandment

About observing the Sabbath day and keeping it holy

As a prohibition.

Unlike many of the other prohibitive commandments,

(Think “Thou shall not …”)

Jesus understands the Sabbath law as permissive.

Jesus sees Sabbath law as liberation,

A means of God’s mercy and grace,

Towards God’s chosen, adapted, and loved people.

Jesus interprets it differently

By reading the third commandment

In the context of God’s larger recorded words.


Let me explain.



Here is the whole third commandment in Deuteronomy 5:12-15:

“Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work.  But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you. Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.”


Here is same commandment as recorded in Exodus 20:8-11.

The difference is important.

“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”


Here’s the context:

The Lord’s Sabbath commandment

Was delivered to newly freed slaves.


God hates slavery,

Always has, always will.

God hates everything about slavery,

Where one oppresses another with intimidation and violence,

Where one works another person hard,

Every daylight hour,

Seven days a week.

Think about it:

Our Hebrew ancestors

Held in Egyptian slavery

Worked seven days a week

Under the hot African sun.

Now, God is giving the newly freed Hebrews

A day off.



God created the weekend!


This was the first labor law in God’s kingdom.

This was a law every freed Hebrew would enthusiastically keep!

This wasn’t prohibition;

This was permission!


Some have observed that western culture

Has improved the Sabbath law with the creation of the two-day weekend.

I’m not certain we can improve upon the Lord’s work, but …

I believe God must be pleased with two days of rest.


From Exodus and Deuteronomy

It is important to recognize

The Sabbath’s permission to rest

Extends to sons and daughters,

To slaves (why weren’t they freed, too?) and livestock, and

To resident aliens (AKA … immigrants, green card holders, migrant workers, undocumented foreigners, illegal aliens).

(Exodus 20:10b, Deuteronomy 5:14)




Rest! The Lord commands.

Everyone needs to rest,

Because rest is liberation;

Salvation from slavery and captivity.

A characteristic signature of God’s kingdom from the Gospel of Mark

Is liberation, freedom, and salvation.



The command to rest for Jesus

Is first, and foremost,

A line in the sand advocating for justice.


Everyone deserves rest.


Jesus observes before the Pharisees

“The Sabbath was made for humankind,

And not humankind for the Sabbath.” (2:27)


Let’s look at Exodus,

As if we are looking from Jesus’ point of view.



Exodus expands the context:

The Lord’s Sabbath commandment

Was delivered to newly freed slaves

Who were children of Abraham,

Living in covenant with the God of creation.



For in resting

We are mirroring the creative behavior

Of our God that created the heavens and the earth in six days

And rested on the seventh.

(Exodus 20:11)



The command to rest for Jesus

Is about connecting God’s people

With the God who created us,

Our Heavenly Father.

The relationship we have with God

Defines the deep roots of our faith

That anchors us throughout life.








Living in relationship with God.


Keeping the Sabbath day holy

Is permission to reflect upon the sacredness of life:

What it means to live

As God’s child,




Redeemed, and



The Sabbath was made for life!



“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (2:27-28)


“The Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (2:28)

Game on, Pharisees.

Good news for the world.

Not so much good news for the Pharisees.

The stage is set for the remainder of the Gospel of Mark.


Jesus has never been afraid to lean into privilege,

To speak truth to power,

To bring liberation and freedom,

To draw a line in the sand for social justice.

Jesus always invites his chosen to embrace creation,

Celebrate life, live in righteousness,

With the same faithfulness God has shown towards us.


Dearly beloved,


Jesus, lord of the Sabbath,

Invites us to




imagine what the world would look like

If it were transformed into the Kingdom that God is planning.

Let us dream of a world that is just and fair,

Where all may find rest,

Where all may fall into love and relationship

With the God who created them.


Let us learn from Jesus.

Let us boldly follow his example.

Let us be the hands of Jesus to bring Sabbath to the world.