Sermon June 2: Mark 2:28ff Mic Drop                        Rev.Betsy Hogan

Do you enjoy a good mic drop? That perfect pithy response that just silences nonsense and leaves it sputtering incoherently with nowhere left to go? It’s difficult NOT to enjoy a good mic drop. They really can be immensely satisfying. Which, if that doesn’t sound particularly Christian, it’s important to note that neither the enjoyment nor the satisfaction has to be about the cutting down of the PERSON, themselves as a person –

But really CAN be, and hopefully usually is, an enjoyment and satisfaction that’s really about the cutting down of the nonsense. Just because it’s nonsense. And it DOES in fact need to sputter itself out incoherently with nowhere left to go, due to being nonsense –

And if that leaves a bunch of disciples in a field plucking heads of grain to eat on the sabbath because they’re hungry, now feeling a pleasant enjoyment and satisfaction that they’ve witnessed a delightful mic drop, well – so be it.

Because this passage Margaret read for us is an epic Jesus mic drop for sure. On the one hand, the Pharisees with their strict and immutable principle – no work on the sabbath – and on the other hand, the disciples for whom it’s either bend that rule or go hungry –

And Jesus doesn’t even attempt any philosophical discourse upholding either the essential priority of love or common sense, or the possible value of a situational ethic over one based on rigid rules –

He just quotes scripture at them. It really is extremely satisfying. He reminds the Pharisees, using their own sole source for values and ethics, that when King David – the most best amazing example of their own faithfulness –

That when King David and his companions were hungry and in need of food on the sabbath, they didn’t just “do work on the sabbath” to feed themselves, but in fact went into the temple and ate the most holy bread of the presence. Blessed and sacred and offered to God and not to be consumed by ANYONE, save the priests with due attention to its sacredness.

The implication being that if THAT didn’t annoy God, which it manifestly did not because when people are hungry God is not ridiculous -- then obviously God would be okay with the disciples just plucking heads of grain. Because they were hungry. Notwithstanding it being the sabbath. 

It’s a beautiful mic drop. Because yes. The Pharisees are perfectly correct. Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy – it’s not just a rule. It’s one of the Ten Commandments. It’s one of the essential rules laid out in the wilderness for how God’s people can best live together in community. It’s one of the essential rules for God’s people, for the Jewish people of the first century, for Jesus and his disciples and the Pharisees – the elders of the synagogue – who approach them – 

And the rule is very clear. It is an immutable principle. On the sabbath, no work is to be done. None, zero, nada. Remember the Sabbath Day, the commandment says, the commandment spoken by God through Moses – Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days you toil, but on the seventh, you rest.

And when strictly observed that rest really means NO WORK. Including, as it happens, no picking ears of corn off their stalks.

Which when the Pharisees confront them, that’s what the disciples of Jesus are doing. They’re hungry, they’ve been on the road, travelling from this place to that place while Jesus teaches and preaches and heals the sick –

And it’s the Sabbath, and they happen to be walking through a grainfield, and they’re hungry. So, yes it’s the sabbath, but they pick some food!

Which makes perfect sense! And so when the Pharisees react – all legalistic, about how it’s the sabbath and picking grain on the sabbath is forbidden and why can’t Jesus control his followers, they’re breaking the rules all the time –

We’re ready with our three cheers for Jesus when he takes them down with his mic drop! Because yes, of course, ‘remember the sabbath day to keep it holy’, but seriously? They’re hungry. Is it really better to strictly follow the commandment and be lying there useless and light-headed the rest of the day? Are we somehow meant to imagine that makes God happy?

And Jesus does not disappoint! Because, “Seriously?” he says to the Pharisees, “They’re hungry.” And just for good measure he reminds the Pharisees of that time when King David and his companions were hungry and so they broke into the temple and ate the holy bread. Which, if God was going to get worked up about such things, surely that would have given God a conniption. 

But it didn’t. Because seriously? That is not what God is like. Yes, observe the sabbath. But let’s use some common sense here, shall we? 

It really is a virtuouso performance here from Jesus, his take down of the Pharisees. Which Mark actually adds to in the passage immediately following when Jesus actually heals a man with a withered hand on the sabbath. Just to send the Pharisees right over the edge.

In Matthew and Luke things are a little less dramatic, though no less pointed – in both cases, Jesus delivers the same message but as a teaching, noting that presumably if one’s donkey falls into a pit on the sabbath or one’s sheep falls into a well on the sabbath, God would far rather one actually do something to save them than just leave them there stuck. Wouldn’t God? Yes, God would.

It really is Jesus, in some senses, at his most viscerally appealing to our modern sensibility. Because we really do, at a visceral level, tend to be reactive to rigidity with regard to rules that defies common sense. And I identify that particularly with the modern sensibility because it IS a feature of modernity that each of us imagines not only that we possess common sense but that our personal common sense actually matters.

That it’s not entirely irrelevant in the face of immutable principles that simply are and we must follow them – but that we personally get a say. And so we personally can say, when we discern it to be true, “that doesn’t make sense”.

It’s quite a modern notion. Except insofar as it’s not, because there it is in Jesus’ epic take-down of the Pharisees! Which appeals to every modern instinct that we have about the danger of rigidity, when it comes to rules or principles.

Because we KNOW that rigidity sometimes defies common sense. Presumably most of us have sat at a red light in the middle of the night with no one else around and thought “this is ridiculous”. 

And we also know how easily rigidity can wind up breeding hypocrisy. Because it’s pretty hard to claim to be pro-donkey if you’re only pro-donkey until it falls into a pit on the sabbath. 

So this speaks to us, this message of Jesus to the Pharisees. It speaks to us of a God who does not want idolatry of the rules. Who values our common sense. And who therefore trusts us to receive principles, commandments, rules that were given as gifts, for our benefit, to enhance life – who trusts us to receive them and then to shape them faithfully and thoughtfully in specific circumstances so that that’s what they do.

It’s ironic, really, that this is one of the fundamental messages of Christianity – when so much of the history of Christianity right up until the present day has been such a thoroughly UNfaithful manifestation of rigid inflexibility.

But it really IS fundamental to what Jesus proclaimed – to a world in which no matter how hard God tried to get through to them, everyone kept hauling around a great staggering load of divinely-ordained rules they thought they had to follow. 

Because “Listen,” Jesus said. “My yoke is actually easy and my burden is actually light. One lens to look through. One operative principle. Is it loving? Then do it. Is it not? Then don’t.”

That’s not loosy goosey undemanding cheap grace, do whatever – it’s an expression of trust. That we can receive the commandments as the gifts that they are, the parameters of living well, and living well with one another – and then negotiate them fundamentally through love. Which for God, as Jesus points out, as the Hebrew prophets before him pointed out, is really the only commandment that matters.

But here’s the thing. I don’t think that Jesus meant for all that King David business to be the mic drop here. Quote the scriptures, God fully expects us to be guided not just by commandments but by our own common sense and understanding of love – and high fives all around as the Pharisees sputter and grumble to themselves.

I think Jesus’ mic drop is actually meant to be the last line. “For the sabbath was made for people, not people for the sabbath”. Because it’s all too easy, when we take on board that our common sense and understanding of love are meaningful in relation to a rigid principle – to then let ourselves discount the need for any rigid principles at all. As themselves meaningful, and given to us for a reason.

Yes, the sabbath was made for people – but the sabbath was also made. For a reason. 

Because just as the commandment ‘an eye for an eye’ has a subtext that takes more time to hear – about how the actual point of it was to prevent the escalation of violence that human beings are so prone to, so it’s about being EVEN to stop the cycle –

The commandment about the sabbath has a subtext too. Because the whole point of the sabbath commandment was that everyone gets to rest. The sabbath commandment broke into a human culture that privileged rest as something only for the wealthy, only for the powerful, and it said NO. God wants a day of rest for everyone. Not just the wealthy, not just the powerful – servants, labourers, the poor. 

The sabbath commandment’s actually a radical statement to a human family that’s otherwise unfortunately inclined to reserve rest for those deemed ‘worthy’ of it. Those who have ‘earned it’. It’s a commandment, yes, but it also expresses a principle.

And one not unimportant to how we might imagine God understands the meaning of love. Because it assumes, it expects, it demands, a world in which everyone gets to rest one day a week. And still survive. Without having to add extra hours to get by. Without being at the mercy of a boss who has no mercy. And without going hungry. 

That’s what it was made to shape. That’s what it was made to protect. Jesus’ mic drop wasn’t that God’s love overrides God’s rigid rules. His mic drop was “Hey, that rigid rule was actually part of what God’s love looks like.” The sabbath was made for people. 

It’s interesting to me how often the very same progressive voices that default to being anti-churchy hegemony, and dismantling the retrograde institutions of Christendom, like ‘no Sunday shopping’ – will often, having been fully successful in their efforts, then commence a few years later to rue the loss of the essential principles that Christendom protected. Now there’s no day of rest for anyone, but especially for those who labour for less. 

So it’s a cautionary tale, this passage. Sometimes we’re too quick to celebrate what feels like the mic drop. Sometimes it’s good to wait for what Jesus REALLY offers as the mic drop. In case it’s a fuller picture of the breadth of what God’s love looks like, that God really wanted us to see. God being our helper. Amen.