Friday, September 5, 2014

Old Wine Skins, The Sabbath and Picking Grain

Jesus told His disciples, 

"Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Matthew 11: 28, 29
"No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls 

away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins."  
One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, "Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?"
And he said to them, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, "Come forward." Then he said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 
The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. Mark 2: 21-3:6

In my Bible classes growing up, I was never taught to read scripture with the understanding that the teachings of Christ and His deeds were purposely correlated by the author. The Gospel writers were not simply recording unrelated, sequential incidents in Christ's life. No. And this can be confusing. 

Often Biblical skeptics will compare the gospel record of Christ's life and point out that the authors moved things about, therefore they assume the gospels cannot be trusted. Absolutely untrue. They do not understand the literary methods of the times. That was a common way of writing even among the gentiles.

Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were not attempting a strict chronological document of our Lord's life. They wove Jesus' story together to make certain theological points to their audience. Whether something Jesus did and taught actually occurred together was not as important to the authors as the fact that the story of Christ's actions supported what He taught. So we can often learn a lot by what events occurred around the Lord's teachings.

In the above passage, we read Mark's theological path by what stories he places near each other. He records Jesus telling His listeners two parables about cloth and wine. Our Lord warns them that it would be wasteful to place new wine in old wineskins for they will burst. Just as it would be ruining the old garment to patch it with new cloth.  

He is alluding to the theological difficulties of bringing new truth, the New Covenant, into a society that is still within the Old Covenant. They will not work together. The Old breaks with the new. 

So then we should carefully notice the two stories that follow the two parables of the new and old covenants. Both events are seen as breaking the Sabbath. The first one is about reaping grains on the day of rest. Remember that the first, the very first restriction given Israel about the sabbath rest was that they were not to go outside and gather the manna. Here Jesus is allowing His disciples to gather food to eat on that day. 

When confronted by the Pharisees, Jesus does not accuse them of adding legalistic laws surrounding the rest day, nor of misunderstanding the sabbath laws. Instead, He points back to King David and his companions eating the shewbread. He takes authority over the day. He can break the sabbath and so can His disciples. Jesus deliberately breaking the sabbath, horrifies Israel's leaders.

Then in the second story, Christ heals on the sabbath. This again provokes the leaders. 

[An interesting note about this. The Talmud, which is a record of the Jewish oral traditions and rabbinical commentary of the time of Jesus, relates  a prophesy from a greatly admired rabbi who lived right before Jesus. He told Israel if they could keep two sabbaths in a row without breaking them, the Messiah would come. So you can imagine the outrage at Jesus deliberately breaking the sabbath. The irony is amazing. They saw the Messiah's coming being delayed by this lawless upstart and his sabbath-breaking. And the sabbath-breaking was by the Messiah!] 

To return to the Mark's passages, we see the two stories that follow the introduction of the New Covenant are not lawless acts of breaking the fourth commandment. The new wine and new garments introduce the new priesthood, the new law, the new covenant.  

The first covenant was vanishing and the new was being formed through Christ. He choses the breaking, or rather better said, the fulfilling of the Sabbath day, the day of rest, as His first step forward into the New Covenant. Of all the things Christ could have chosen as an illustration of the New taking the place of the Old, Christ picked a Sabbath illustration and allowed the Pharisees to see the Apostles gather food on the day of rest. 

That is important. For Christ was taking authority of the Sabbath and bringing it into the new and eternal covenant. Man was never made to be under the authority of the Sabbath. For the Sabbath was a shadow of something better.

Now, to understand fully what is going on we switch to another gospel, written by St. Matthew, Apostle of Christ. Matthew introduced the sabbath-breaking, eating-of-the-grain story with Jesus saying:

"Come to me, all of you who are struggling and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." 

When we read both versions of the story, we get a more complete view. Jesus is bringing in the New Covenant by showing His followers that He, as God, has authority over the Sabbath, but that He fulfills the New Sabbath. We now go to Christ for our spiritual and physical rest. The Sabbath had always been a temporary rest to point to the greater rest in Him.

Those who remain in the old cloth and the old wine cannot handle this new covenant of new cloth and new wine. For the old covenant is shrinking, it can no longer hold the new. And Jesus uses the sabbath to show us that the New Covenant rest is no longer a day, but a person. Him. Now, we are to come to Him all those who are weary and He gives us rest.