Reading Ramblings – June 3, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Second Sunday after Pentecost – June 3, 2018

Texts: Deuteronomy 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

Context: We now enter the liturgical season of Ordinary Time. We were also in this season briefly between Epiphany Sunday and the first Sunday in Lent. Ordinary time doesn’t have specific emphases compared to more specific seasons such as Easter, Lent, or Advent. As such, while the Old Testament reading and the Gospel will generally work together, the Epistle lesson will follow the lectio continua tradition of just working through particular books of the New Testament. Although we were working through 1 Corinthians at the start of the year, we’re now in 2 Corinthians. We also pick up more or less where we left off in our reading of Mark, the Gospel assigned for Year B of the three-year Revised Common Lectionary (LC-MS edition).

Deuteronomy 5:12-15 – This section of Deuteronomy is a recap of the Ten Commandments first given in Exodus 20. The particular verses have to do with the Sabbath. After hundreds of years in Egypt, many of the later ones in slavery, the Israelites are gifted with one day a week that is their own. Modeled after the Lord’s own respite from creation in Genesis 1-2, the Israelites are to honor God by observing a day of rest each week. The purpose is to remember that the Lord has brought them out of slavery, out of a condition where they owned nothing, not least of which their time. But now one day every week they can rest and give thanks to God for his provision for them. Moreover, this is not just to be an observance for the Hebrews alone, but for anyone within their communities. Although eventually the Sabbath becomes more of a burden than a blessing, here it is clear that the intent is for relaxation and rest and enjoyment rather than worrying about what constitutes work or not.

Psalm 81:1-10 – This psalm pairs very well with the Old Testament lesson. God is to be praised rather than feared for giving the Sabbath, the embodiment of freedom. Yet perhaps his people have forsaken this generous and gracious God in search of other gods (v.9). They are exhorted to faithfulness, remembering the blessings of their God, undoubtedly in comparison with the non-existent blessings of their false gods or idols. We are called to worship God for specific acts of mercy and graciousness, chiefly the forgiveness of sins in the incarnate life, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God. Compared to this vast gift, what can the world or other contenders for our affections and loyalty offer?

2 Corinthians 4:5-12 – Believers in Jesus Christ carry a treasure within them, an intimate knowledge of God’s glory as expressed in the person of Jesus Christ. We carry, as it were, a light that cannot be dimmed by any darkness on earth, and that promises to illumine every path in every dark hour. However this treasure is not discernible to others easily. It does not exclude us from the pain and suffering common to our broken world. Yet it does enable us to deal with such pain and suffering in a different manner, so that whatever we suffer does not claim us, does not mark and identify us in any permanent sense. We belong to another. And that other shines through us even as we suffer and are oppressed. It is our glory and privilege to allow Jesus to shine through our brokenness, so that all those around us – including those who are causing us pain and suffering – might see him. Paul can say that although he faces death, it has enabled him to show Christ to the Corinthians, so that now they possess true life.

Mark 2:23-3:6 – A repeated complaint about Jesus is that He violates the rabbinic teachings regarding the Sabbath. It’s one thing to say to abstain from work, but how does one define what is work? When is one about to cross the line from work to leisure and violate the third commandment? Clearly Jesus’ detractors feel He has crossed that line to some degree, though their tempered response to him seems to indicate that even they realize that there is room for interpretation and reinterpretation. And this is what Jesus does. Is it wrong to feed oneself on the Sabbath? Is gleaning a few heads of grain to be compared with harvesting a field? Jesus refers to 1 Samuel 21, when David requisitions holy bread from Ahimelech, which was not permitted for him or his men to eat. Yet Jesus expects that his critics will not condemn David’s behavior, as David is revered as king.

Similarly, when his critics stand ready to condemn him for an act of healing, He breaks down the Sabbath to it’s original intent – to do good to God’s people, rather than to do harm to them. If Jesus has it within his power and will to heal this man, it would be harmful for him not to do so, even if it is the Sabbath. In a very literal sense, Jesus is saying, the Sabbath is intended for just this sort of thing! His critics are missing the point of the Sabbath by turning it into a regulation that prohibits good being done, as though such good could violate the intent of the Sabbath law.

Although protesting Jesus’ violation of the Law, his critics demonstrate their own sinfulness in going out to plot his destruction, a violation of the fifth commandment (as per Matthew 5:21-26) as well as the eighth commandment against false witness against your neighbor. Clearly they are not really concerned with propriety and keeping the Law or they wouldn’t engage in these activities!

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