This sermon was delivered at St. Thomas Chapel, St. Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary on October 2nd, 2016.
Keep Human and Human Concerns at the Centre
Sermon for third Sunday after Feast of the Cross
Text Mark 2:23-28
23. And it came to pass, that he was going on the sabbath day through the grain fields; and his disciples began, as they went, to pluck the heads of grain.
24. And the Pharisees said to Jesus, Look, why do they on the sabbath day do that which is not lawful?
25. And Jesus said to them, Didn't you ever read what David did, when he had need, and was hungry, he, and they that were with him?
26. How he entered into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the showbread, which was not lawful to eat except the priests, and gave also to those who were with him?
27. And Jesus said to them, The sabbath was made for humans, and not humans for the sabbath:
28. so that the Son of man is Lord even of the sabbath.
Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
Today we observe the Third Sunday after the Feast of the Cross.
Also we observe today the 147th birthday of the Father of our nation, Mahatma, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He lived the life of cross for the sake of the independence of his countrymen. Let us remember him for what great gift he gave us and also glorify God for giving such a great statesman like him for us. Of course Jesus lived it first and not just for any countrymen, but for the whole creation and also He established a new cross, not of death and killing but of resurrection and life.
With cross Jesus established a new culture for us to have.
This in many ways shall be contradictory to what have been followed by His own people then and now.
That is why according to Matthew 5:27 ff. Jesus had to say, 'you may have heard this ... but I tell you...'.
Here we have a question of conflict between Legalism and Human Concerns or welfare.
This shall bring us to the fundamental question, What is the purpose of law and statutes, and again how can it be understood in the context of the classical event of "Incarnation"?
There may be people who would say, Jesus came to abolish law. But I don't ascribe to that theory.
Incarnation holds creation in priority and helped to take it to it's fullness.
In that process law will be of help.
Incarnation was God's concrete and paramount expression of love, love toward all that He created and particularly humans.
Love binds people and this binding will certainly bring in certain limitations on every one.
The classical example again, is Incarnation. God had to set a limit to Himself to have Incarnation and that was because He loved His creation and John the Evangelist testifies to it in 3:16. 'God so loved the world that He had to send His Son to be crucified'. That was a law God accepted on Himself.
But that law was for His creation and particularly for humans.
This is why Jesus declared, law is for human and not human for law.
As a matter of fact this was the purpose of the law Moses received while Israel was on the way to the promised land.
The commandment God granted Israel through Moses had two purposes, One educative, that is, to educate the people, who never knew God or knew how can they respond to God's love which effected in the liberation from Egypt. They were not to have any confusion about who liberated them as they until then knew only the gods of Egypt. God had to tell them, it was not the god of Pharaoh who liberated them, but the One who 'shall show them what he shall be' or Yahweh who was in action. If they ever thought it was the god of Pharaohs, then they will again go back to that slavish situation no matte where ever they ended up living in. But God wanted them always to be liberated politically, in understanding and in relationship.
Secondly, on the same line they had to learn a new kind of relationship between human and human and everything else in the created world.
God gave those ten commandments that they will be an organized community where they arrived. Those commandments defined the kind of relationship they should have in a liberated world.
Until then they knew only of a servant master relationship and hence always a hierarchical one. But that was not God wanted them to have in their liberated world.
So ultimately what was important was human (including human's world) and their wellbeing.
But the leaders of the community never understood this purpose of God, but added statutes and laws to make God's people slaves again and to have a stratified society for them.
To Jesus, this was blatant violation of God's purpose with human.
Jesus found this occasion, of his disciples plucking and eating seed heads in the field, recorded in Mark 2: 23 ff. a fitting one to bring in His point.
He reminds those leaders who were so zealous about the law, that there were occasions when law gave way to the need of humans.
While David was trying to escape the wrath of Saul he had to go to the temple and he himself eat and also give to his men the show bread which was only for the clergy to eat according to Leviticus 23:3 to 28 and Dt. 5:14.
Mark of course made a mistake in naming the priest of the time by saying that it was Abiathar who fed David. It was rather Ahimelk according to 1 Sam. 21: 1 ff. Who offered food to David. We could see Matthew making such mistakes when he was trying to quote from their scripture. But probably this was the only one for Mark.
Any way, Jesus' point was well established with this example from their own history.
Historically speaking Sabbath was established as a statute to keep the community together. Many of you know that it was during the time of Babylonian Exile they introduced the observance of Sabbath, but attributed it for better acceptance to the time of creation, the stories of which again were adapted during that time.
Exiles who had to work hard in the new environment had two challenges: one, to keep the identity of the community in the foreign land and two, to keep generations learn the ways and traditions of the community so that they will not get assimilated in the society they were and forget the love of God that was shown in the liberative act in Egypt and the liberative act that was to be shown few decades later during the time of Cyrus of Persia when they will go back to Jerusalem to establish themselves again as of old. So Sabbath also was for human.
I see the same sentiment working among Malayalee Christians who have gone away for diaspora living. The attendance in Churches in all places outside Kerala is almost hundred percent while in Kerala it is is maximum fifty.
But again the question before those who have migrated to other parts of the country and world is, how do they treat the traditionally handed down customs, practices, guidelines and statues? There shall be no absolute law in religion that no change can be effected. It should be able to see humans and human concerns as primary. Laws are for human and hence are to be re-examined on a regular basis and re-written according to the historical journey humans take through changing socio-political, cultural environs. Otherwise it may drive growing up generations away when they get older and gain freedom even if they were kept within strict religious boundaries while they were still young.
Not only Sabbath and Sabbatical statutes but any law that doesn't take care of the genuine concerns of human's wellbeing and healthy relationship with God and with one another will be challenged and broken to hurt many involved including those loving parents.
Now we have a new culture established by Jesus' Cross, and that culture should be a culture of love, caring and understanding that will strengthen bonds between God and human, and human and human with all its environs. May the Spirit of Christ who shall lead us to all truth and help us understand where we stand now and where we are to be standing.
God bless us