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Mark 2 v 23 - 28

I heard a question on the radio a couple of days ago which asked when the Sunday trading law had come in, allowing large shops to open on Sundays and it reminded me that there was a time in my memory when no shops apart from little corner shops could open and Sundays were generally very quiet, even in London where I grew up. The Sabbath day observance was, for a long time, a major commitment for the whole of British society and that demonstrated how seriously the Sabbath day would have been treated in a wholly religious society such as Israel. On the seventh day God rested, so it was designed as part of the foundation of how the world worked. I think even today fields are left fallow once every seven years and it is believed that humans are at their most productive when having one day in seven off. On an ordinary day of the week, the disciples were doing what was freely permitted, but the Sabbath was hedged around with thousands of petty rules and regulations and one of the many things the Pharisees prided themselves on was their knowledge of these myriad commitments. By plucking the ears of corn as they walked and eating them, the disciples were considered law-breakers and therefore could face the death penalty! It appears that the Pharisees expected Jesus to stop the actions of the disciples, but instead He responded by quoting from the Old Testament. In 1 Samuel 21 v 1-6 is the story of David, fleeing for his life, arriving at Nob and demanding food for himself and his band. All there was where the twelve loaves which had been offered to God and where therefore the property of priests and Levites. David was starving and on his last legs, so took and ate the bread with his men and so Jesus showed through the retelling of this tale that human need takes precedence over divine Law. Jesus declared that, thus, human beings were created not to be the victims of Sabbath rules, but the Sabbath should have made their lives better, enabling them to have a rest, preventing any employer from exploiting them any further than they already were! In this little vignette we are reminded that religion does not consist of rules and regulations. True Christianity stems from hearts that have been transformed by the love and mercy of God. We are also reminded that the first claim on anyone is the claim of human need. I was reminded by Matt yesterday of the Good Samaritan and those who passed by the poor victim did so because of fear of breaking religious rules. If ever the performance of our religion prevents us helping someone in need, our religion is not religion at all. The Sabbath was never so sacred as when it was used to help those who needed help. The decisive factor in all events is love, not Law.

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