“What are those men doing, Eli?”
Eli makes a fist, “Breaking the Sabbath apparently.”
Eli’s friend watches the groups of men in travel-worn clothes pluck the heads from the wheat stalks and pop them into their mouths. A dark man stood among the group. He locked eyes with Eli.
“That’s that man Jesus isn’t it?” Eli’s friend asks.
Eli nods and crosses the field. He had heard about this man and his heresy. It is a stretch to turn plucking into harvesting but if Eli can pin the offense he definitely would improve his standing with his fellow Pharisees.
“Look, why do your followers break the Sabbath?” Eli asks the Teacher and gestures to the men.
Patient eyes regard him. “Have you not read about what David did when he was hungry?”
Eli and his friend glance at each other.
“He ate the priest’s bread even though it was unlawful.” The Teacher answers for them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.”
Eli leans against the back wall with several of his friends. He glares at the back of the heads of a couple of men from his sect as they sat in rapt attention. Eli sighs and tunes out the Teacher; he already heard the man’s message about loving enemies anyway.
Eli watches a man off to the side. The man’s right hand is seems twisted into a skeletal claw. The man has spent the past hour inching toward the front of the synagogue and the Teacher. He apparently knows about the Teacher’s habit of “healing” people at the end of his lessons.
Finished, the Teacher wanders over and lays a hand on the startled man’s shoulder. He looks at Eli and his friends in turn. Eli is expectant. “It is lawful on the Sabbath to do good or do evil, to save a life or the kill?”
Eli and his friend remain silent. There is no doubt what this man will do. All they have to do is wait. Why does the Teacher look angry and sad? He is the one breaking the Law!
“Stretch out your hand,” the Teacher orders the withered man and massages the offered hand.
This heretic just walks on God’s commandments, Eli thought, yet just close enough when we are around so we can’t completely accuse him. He has too much favor with the people; we need to turn them against him and save those ignorant people from the wrath this man will bring down upon them.
Eli shares a concerned angry look with his friends. The Teacher is going too far.
The Sabbath is a Jewish tradition that prohibits work on the last day of each week. This day of rest seeks to follow God’s example in the story of creation in the Book of Genesis where He rests after creating the world. The Sabbath is rooted in the Ten Commandments. According to the tradition, it is unlawful to even prepare meals on that day. Everything needs to be prepared the day before. Violating the Sabbath is a grave offense, punishable by death.
The Gospel of Mark doesn’t reveal the motivations behind the Pharisee accusations of Jesus and his disciples breaking the Sabbath. For some, Jesus, the teacher,threatens their power with his proletariat oriented lessons. Although he doesn’t explicitly say the priesthood is unnecessary-in fact he supports obeying the priesthood in many cases-his messages of Compassion are empowering to the people who typically rely on the priests. For others he is truly breaking a sacred Commandment. To the honest believers in the Law, the Teacher is a genuine threat to the spiritual well being of the people and the social order. After all, his interpretations of Jewish Law are often against the established accepted interpretation.
The preceding narratives capture the underlying tone and message found in Mark. In both narratives, despite perhaps honest motivation, religious tradition is elevated above the suffering of people. Because these religious traditions and the accusing mind behind such a strict application prevent acting in Compassion, they are attachments. The Pharisee’s could very well give the Teacher and his hungry disciples food to prevent them from “harvesting.” Such an act of compassion would also keep the Sabbath. However, they seek to accuse the Teacher of a crime. Both a strict interpretation of religion and a hard heart prevent compassion. The Teacher provides perspective to religious traditions – they were made to benefit us and not enslave us. Although this disciples browsing in the field can be construed as work, the Teacher says nothing to them. He values their hunger over a strict observance of tradition.
In the narrative of the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees are still more concerned with accusation then with the suffering of their neighbors. I give them the benefit of a doubt. It is very likely they honestly thought the Teacher was breaking the Sabbath and did not only seek to accuse him of anything to eliminate his influence with people. The Teacher is saddened by the lack of Compassion toward the withered man. The Pharisees could very well use their authority to help the man, despite being in a lower caste than them. The priesthood held power under the authority of the Roman Empire.They turn a blind eye to the man’s suffering; their concerns were directed toward adherence to the Law and accusing the Teacher of anything they can.
Strict religious tradition is slavery. It is completely reverse to the role of religion. Religious traditions are meant to reduce suffering and increase well-being. People are not meant to serve religion; religion is to serve the people. The Sabbath is an excellent tradition. Western society would do well to adopt it and shut down all businesses for that day each week. Observance frees up time for family, friends, hobbies, or simply to rest. It also frees time for spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation. However, the Sabbath and other traditions is not to be used to cause suffering. If a person is hungry and does work in order to eat, it should not be held against them. Rather it is a failing of society to assist that person so they can observe the tradition without hunger. Human need is always foremost.
 Mark 3:1-6
 Exodus 20: 1-17
 Exodus 31:12-18