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Epiphany 9

The Ninth Sunday after the Epiphany is rarely celebrated as such among us. The texts selected for this Sunday are used only when Easter is very late in the Church Year and in Churches in which the Last Sunday after the Epiphany is not celebrated as Transfiguration Sunday.

Deuteronomy 5:12-15

Within the guidelines provided in Deuteronomy 5 for the “Ten Commandments,” it is written that Israel must “Remember the Sabbath day, in order to keep it holy.” By “keeping it holy,” it is meant that the seventh day should be set aside and dedicated as a day of rest for everyone in Israel, including all employees and beasts of burden. It is interesting to note that nothing is written in this text about prayer, meditation, and community worship on this day. Neither is there anything written here about activities associated with emergency situations, nor about helping people on this day, other than giving everyone an opportunity to rest. It may be implied that certain activities will be necessary on the Sabbath day. For example, babies must be fed, people must eat and drink to preserve their health and lives, soldiers must protect their nation and its people, etc. In our time, rabbis and cantors work to lead worship services in synagogues on the Sabbath and pastors and others work to lead in worship services in churches on Sundays, the Christian “Sabbath” for all except Seventh Day Adventist Christians.

Mark 2:23–3:6

Observance of the Sabbath and activities of Jesus and of his followers on the Sabbath are featured in these two narratives that conclude the series of conflict stories about Jesus and the Pharisees that run from Mark 2:1 through 3:6. It is important to note the structure of these texts, especially of Mark 2:23-28. The saying of Jesus that the Sabbath was established for the sake of people and that people were not brought into existence for the sake of the Sabbath is consistent with other sayings that without a doubt were expressed by the Jesus of history many times and in many situations. The extensive introduction to the saying of Jesus (2:23-26) appears to be a product of the writer of the Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Mark and of the developing Christian tradition. We can easily fail to see that the Pharisees in this introduction are literary Pharisees set in place by the developing Christian tradition. (Real Pharisees, Jewish Pharisees, would not have been out in the grain fields on the Sabbath to complain about what Jesus’ followers were doing.)

The conclusion on verse 28 that the “Son of man” is Lord also over the Sabbath, like other “Son of man” sayings are Christological affirmations developed within the Christian tradition as a result of reflections over the Daniel traditions, and probably do not go back to the Jesus of history.

The best Pharisees and Jews throughout Jewish history would insist, as Jesus insisted in Mark 3:1-6, as well as in Mark 2:27, that people are always more important than institutions and practices, even than the most significant religious practices. After all, the texts in Exodus 20:8-11 and in Deuteronomy 5:12-15 emphasize that the Sabbath Day was designed to help people and beasts of burden by giving them time for the rest that they needed in order to continue to live. This Mark 2:23–3:6 text will be considered again in Series B on the Sunday between May 29 and June 4, if that Sunday occurs after Trinity Sunday.

Psalm 81:1-10

The connections of this text with the emphasis on what should and should not be done on the Sabbath in the two texts considered above are that God delivered Israel from the burdens imposed by the Egyptians and that the people are called upon to sing praises to the Lord God who delivered them. Therefore, the Lord God has given them rest from their burdens.

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

The Apostle Paul wrote here that although he and other followers of Jesus are afflicted and abused by their Roman oppressors and their surrogates, the ultimate power is held by God and demonstrated in the life of the Risen Christ. Only God is ultimately the giver of rest.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen