Mark 2:23-28 Stop Working So Hard!?

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Stop Working So Hard!?

In this passage Jesus is challenged over how his disciples break Sabbath tradition. Jesus does not deny that his disciples have broken with the tradition, but he justifies their choice.  What they have done is worked so that they can have a snack.  They are harvesting the grain, one grain at a time.  Probably they are ‘grinding’ the grain into a mush in their hands and eating it.  It’s a casual action, so why do the Pharisees draw attention to it.  The Pharisees police the nation in the informal way many journalists do.  We should think of them as ‘do-gooders’ who think they have the moral high ground to judge whether new celebrities are worthy of respect.  They catch Jesus’ disciples breaking one of their laws which equates picking grain with the labour of harvesting.

Jesus points out that their precious King David broke ritual law when his men were on a mission with him.  The Pharisees would have had a hard time defining David’s actions as wrong.  The historical distance between David and the Pharisees gives David the righteous high-ground of a mythological giant.  Jesus points out how David’s thinking was indeed superior to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.  David perceived that God had set rules in place for the benefit of man, however the Pharisees had developed restrictive rules that suffocated people rather than set them free

In today’s society the Sabbath, Saturday, and The Lord’s Day, Sunday, are days to get bargains in our worship of consumerism at the local mall.  We are as frantic in our leisure time as we are in our week day activities.  We could actually do with more Sabbath rest.  However, I remember a time when Sabbath rest was so strongly legislated that it was suffocating.  I went to a camp once where a horizontal hour was legislated for teens.  The question to ask ourselves about our weekend activity is whether I finish the weekend closer to God and refreshed.  Often I know I finish my weekends looking forward to the work-week so that I can live at a sustainable pace of life.

I have a suspicion that our own greed and elevated standards of living have led to this exhaustion.  To keep a house running is a full time job.  In a bygone era one person kept the house going and the other brought home the salary that paid for the necessities of life.  Somehow we elevated the perceived adventure and importance of working in the marketplace and devalued domestic life.  Now, in effect, we have replaced two full-time jobs with three full-time jobs and people are very tired.  In many cases the home is neglected or has become a burden so that children have all their needs paid for but lack the nurture and care of a bygone generation.

Also a consumer mentality drives us.  We believe that more things are ‘essential’ because we have indoctrinated by a capitalist society that measures success by the size of a profit margin.  I do not believe Jesus was a communist, but I am equally skeptical of the modern day church’s adoption of consumerist capitalism.  Capitalism and its desire for gain is diametrically opposed to the wisdom literature in the Old Testament.  We need to take time out of the rat-race.  We need to assess whether we believe that we should accumulate things to make us happy, or whether our purpose is fulfilled only when we are mindful of God.  Being mindful of God will lead to a different attitude about every day of the week and what we do with it.  then we might agree with Jesus, “Man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was made for man.”


My wife tries to hold down a full-time job and so do I.  We are also trying to sell a large house so that we can buy another one.  We both have to clean the house, maintain the house, and raise a family of two small children.  Was society not meant to be this way?  Am I just lazy because I am tired of being in constant motion?  The question is whether this activity has impoverished my relationships.  It is hard to get together with friends who are scattered all over the Chicago area.  It is hard to get to a school 30 minutes away and also get to work 2 hours away and have time for any kind of family life.  We have to work hard to have a house big enough to entertain in.  Americans are used to so much space.  I remember in England being literally sat on top of each other in church meetings, but in America they wouldn’t go for that.  The perception is that to have a healthy relationship it needs to be surrounded by space, but space comes at a price.  It costs money to buy big spaces and it costs in other ways to be so spread out from each other.

What do we do with all this business and activity?  Help me to know how to manage the time and space and serving opportunities that I have to enhance the lives of my family and friends.  helpus not to be so married to convention that we hurt each other.


  1. What were Jesus’ disciples doing on the Sabbath?
  2. Why do you think Pharisees were watching them so closely?
  3. Why do you think Pharisees had laid out a more detailed description of how to refrain from work and rest on the Sabbath?
  4. How do we make rules that are meant to benefit us but they actually hurt us?
  5. What societal norms do you adhere to that were meant to set men and women free but have actually led to less rest and less worship of God?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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2 Responses to Mark 2:23-28 Stop Working So Hard!?

  1. I agree with a lot of what you say in here Peter, but I think the space thing can be a bit misleading. Just because there’s more space in America doesn’t necessitate that there’s less relational closeness/intimacy in the same way that just because there’s less space in England it doesn’t necessitate that there’s more relational closeness/intimacy. I think it depends on a slew of other factors as well.

    Personally, I’ve encountered a suffocating lack of relational closeness/intimacy with most people here in the UK so far. Admittedly, that could be due to the church we’ve been a part of or the neighbourhood we live in or the people we’ve met, but it has been my experience these past two years nonetheless. Part of it is certainly the fact that both countries communicate through vastly different languages.

    Obviously this could lead into a much larger discussion but I just wanted to throw my experience into the ring and see what you made of it.

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