Is religion inherently corrupt? As followers of the Lord of the Sabbath, are we bound by religious rules is there a better way?

Book of Mark Discussion Guide

23 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields, and as they made their way, his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 And the Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him:26 how he entered the house of God, in the time of] Abiathar the high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” 27 And 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.”

3 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” 4 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

Mark 2:23-3:6

This passage concludes a section of the Gospel of Mark where challenges much of the established religion of his day. Jesus is not merely coming to sit at the head of an established religious system, he is coming as the loving creator-king of a kingdom that encompasses the entire world.

As religious systems always do, the religion of Jesus’ day had become off-kilter and broken as a means of knowing God. Yahweh had been replaced as the object of affection for those who were attempting to live according to the tradition of the Pharisees.

Jesus powerfully illustrates the corruption of religion in these two confrontations that he has with the Pharisees. He shows that the religious legalism of his day is 1) illogical and 2) immoral.

It helps us to know what forces Jesus was conquering when he confronted the religious system of his own day. But today very few of us idolize the Sabbath in a way that people did in that day. This does not mean that we should ignore the pull of man-made religion that can tend to set our hearts against God’s.

Discussion Questions

  • In which ways were the Pharisees missing the point of what Jesus’ disciples were doing by plucking grain on the Sabbath? (vv. 23-28)
  • What do you think Jesus means when he says “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath?”
  • What authority is Jesus claiming as “Lord of the Sabbath?”
  • How might this revolutionize how you think about the concept of a Sabbath?
  • Can you think of other religious concepts that are meant to be gifts to mankind but instead get turned into burdens?
  • Why were the Pharisees silent when Jesus asked them a question? (v.4)
  • How was the Pharisees’ attitude toward healing on the Sabbath immoral?
  • Are there religious practices in today’s world that breed hardness of heart or immorality?
  • How does religion give us an alternate sense of purpose or value that conflicts with the purpose and value we find in Jesus?
Jonathan Pugh
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