How is Your Sight?

Mark 8:14-21 (King James Version) Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf. 15And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. 16And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. 17And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? 18Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember? 19When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. 20And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. 21And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?

This passage contains a strong criticism of the form of religion and spirituality practiced by the Pharisees. We will look at the background, so we can better understand why Jesus was critical of the Pharisees. Then we will come back to this specific passage.

Within the book of Mark, we see increasing levels of alienation between Jesus and the religious leaders.  Those conflicts can be seen in the second chapter of Mark, when Jesus disciples pick some grain on the Sabbath. When the Pharisees complain about the disciples eating grain they picked on Sabbath, Jesus outlines the famous principle, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”1 Then Jesus continues by saying that He is the Lord of the Sabbath.2

The disciples were eating from the fields as they walked along. That was legal. A hungry person could take some of his neighbor’s fruit or grain, as long as he did not use harvesting equipment or fill a container with the food (Deuteronomy 23:24-25).3 The principle was to fill your stomach, not your grain elevator or your pantry. The Pharisees criticized the disciples for doing this on Sabbath. In Exodus (16:22-26), the children of Israel were told to gather twice as much manna on Friday, for on Sabbath there would be no manna. To the Pharisees, the disciples were harvesting on the Sabbath.4 In Exodus (34:21), Sabbath rest was commanded, even during plowing and harvest.

The conflict increases in Mark chapter 3. In this chapter, we read about Jesus healing a man who had a withered hand on the Sabbath. Jesus explains his actions by asking, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?”5 And the Word gives us the sense that the Pharisees and Herodians met to see “how they might destroy” Jesus.6

Later, Jesus went to the synagogue. There He saw a man with a withered hand. And Jesus healed the man. Rabbinic tradition, not the Bible, did not allow healing people on the Sabbath, unless it was needed to save a life.7 Obviously, this man was not dying.8 Jesus knew the Pharisees were wanting to trap Him. Jesus asked the man with the withered hand to come forward. He may have healed the man to try soften the hearts of the Pharisees. Seeing the man’s condition might have aroused their compassion.9

Jesus asks the question, “Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill?” Excellent question. The Messiah’s question could be worded another way. Because evil is done every day, cannot good be done every day?10 Jesus was healing, restoring life, while the Pharisees were preparing to take life, to kill Jesus. The Pharisees had been following Jesus to see how they might accuse Him.11 So Jesus asks if their interpretation of the law will result in good or evil, in giving life or in taking life.12 That made it quite obvious who was breaking the Sabbath.13 And it was not Jesus who broke the Sabbath.

Jesus healed on the Sabbath. The religious leaders were angry, because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. Within Judaism, the Sabbath was a loved institution. When Jesus’ disciples did not follow the Sabbath traditions, it was almost like declaring war against the religious leaders.14 To the Judaism of Jesus’ day, the Torah was personified, almost to the point of being made into a companion for God.15 The law and the temple were two powerful symbols of God’s presence and that Israel was a chosen people.16 The law bound Jewish people inside and outside of Palestine together into the nation of Israel.17 That is why when Jesus actions challenged the Pharisees’ concept of the law, they started plotting to kill Him.

The text shows us principles of how to keep the Sabbath. Jesus was in the synagogue on Sabbath.  The Sabbath is for spiritual fellowship. On the Sabbath, we have time for spiritual fellowship with God and with humanity.

The time we have with God benefits us and humanity. The Sabbath answers some important life questions. First, the Sabbath tells us where we come from. A weekly Sabbath reminds us of creation. After God created the world, God rested on the seventh day and “set it apart as His own.”18 When we observe the Sabbath, we celebrate God’s creation of the world. We remember we are part of God’s creation. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people may need to remember God’s creation more than straight people. Queer people are part of God’s creation and on the Sabbath queer Christians can celebrate being part of creation. Second, the Sabbath provides opportunity to receive salvation. Adam Clarke says the Sabbath was given to let servants have time to attend God’s ordinances and become saved.19 Third, the Sabbath reminds us of our purpose in life. Exodus 31:13 and Ezekiel 20:12 tell us the Sabbaths are a sign between God and humanity that God sanctifies us. Sanctification is being “set apart” to serve God.20 On the Sabbath, we are reminded our life has a purpose. Queer Christians are not just rainbow wall-flowers in churches. God intends that queer Christians be actively involved in all aspects of service and leadership in the church.

Another principle comes from Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees criticism of the disciples eating some grain from the field. Jesus noted that David let his soldiers eat the showbread from the temple. The showbread was reserved for the priests.21 From this comment, we can conclude that activities needed to sustain life on the Sabbath are fine.

The Sabbath was created to promote the welfare of humanity.22  Sawicki, a Catholic church historian, observes that the Sabbath kept only as a day to rest from worldly activities does not celebrate the presence of God and God’s power as well as a Sabbath of healing.23 Resting on the Sabbath and not doing any work does not really show God’s power and presence in our lives.

The Sabbath should not have a line drawn around it to limit those to whom we will share God’s presence, love, and grace. The principle of the Sabbath means drawing a big circle, to extend God’s presence, love, and grace to many people. When the Sabbath is used as a way to distinguish good from evil, we may be limiting the influence of God over evil.

Coming back to the question Jesus the Pharisees. Jesus asked it is lawful to do well on the Sabbath. Jesus question helps us see another principle of the Sabbath. We can help people on the Sabbath. To fail to do good, is to do evil. To neglect to save a life we could save, is to take a life.24 Charles Erdman takes the line of his argument a few steps beyond some other commentators. To Erdman, refusing to show mercy on the Sabbath is a sin. He says, “When, therefore, one fails to show mercy on the Sabbath Day, he is guilty of the most extreme lawlessness and of the most unpardonable desecration.”25

The way we celebrate the Sabbath is critical. When we are not sure what activities are appropriate on the Sabbath, we need to think about the results of our actions. If our activities bring pain to people’s lives and divisions to the body of Jesus Christ, we are not celebrating the Sabbath right. When our actions bring the love of God to people’s lives, we are probably celebrating the Sabbath properly. The key is the fruit of our doctrine. People judge our doctrine by its fruit. That might not be the correct way to judge doctrine, but it is the way our doctrine are judged. We need to present the Sabbath in love, or the idea of a day of rest, worship, and service can be rejected. And if we are needlessly harsh, the Lord of the Sabbath, Jesus, might be rejected.

The purpose of the Sabbath is to honor God and to bring salvation.26 When people stand in the pulpit and condemn people to hell, they are not living in harmony with the principles and the purposes of the Sabbath. People who attack gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans-identified people from the Sunday School podium or the pulpit are not living in harmony with the principles of the Sabbath. Insults, condemnation, rejection, and hate do not bring people to salvation and those tactics certainly do not honor God. But the principle is broader than that. When we fail to include people in our community, we have no lived in harmony with the principles of the Sabbath. The times we reject people because of their age, beauty, and gender expression we have failed to live the Sabbath.

Mark 3:5 tells us Jesus was “grieved for the hardness” of the Pharisees’ hearts. Matthew Poole observes a hard object resist the touch and will not let us make an impression on it.27 Have you tried hitting a rock with your bare fist lately? Bishop Brownrigg notes that the rock not only does not yield, it hits back.28 When you hit a rock it certainly feels like the rock hits back. The Pharisees resisted Jesus’ touch. They went to plot His death.

In this passage, we see a contrast between the religion of grace and the religion of ritual and observance. The religion of grace brings Jesus’ tender love, while the religion of empty ritual and empty observance delivers hatred. Grace brings more full life, while empty ritual and observance brings death.

Perhaps that is why Jesus warns the disciples about the religion, the teachings of the pharisees. And this takes us back to the passage we are studying this week. Jesus says to the disciples, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. 16And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. 17And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? perceive ye not yet, neither understand? have ye your heart yet hardened? 18Having eyes, see ye not? and having ears, hear ye not? and do ye not remember?

Many of us have been with Jesus for a long time. Some of us have been with the Savior for years, even decades. But we seem blind, and deaf. Are you blind? Are you able to see the purpose of religious ritual and observance? Do you see that ritual and religious observance are intended to help us show love? Does ritual and observance keep you from hearing the cry for help in the hearts of those around you? Or does your ritual and observance open your eyes and your ears to those in need?


1Mark 2:27.
2Mark 2:28.
3Warren Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, Illinois: Victor Books, 1989), 118.
4Robert G. Hoerber, et. al., eds. Concordia Self-Study Bible: New International Version. (St. Louis: Concordia Pub. House, 1986), 1504.
5Mark 3:4.
6Mark 3:6.
7Charles C. Ryrie. The Ryrie Study Bible:  New Testament, New American Standard Version. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1976), 70; Wayne A. Meeks, et. al., eds. HarperCollins Study Bible:  New Revised Standard Version. (New York: HarperCollins Pub., 1993), 1921; and Hoerber, et. al., 1504.
8Hoerber, et. al., 1504. 
9Matthew Henry. Commentary on the Whole Bible. One Vol. Ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub. House, 1960), 1369.
10Wiersbe, 118.
11Edward Hindson and Woodrow Kroll, eds. The King James Parallel Commentary. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1994), 1972.
12Hindson and Kroll, 1972.
13Hoerber, et. al., 1505. 
14Wiersbe, 118.
15Marnie Sawicki.  The Gospel in History.  (New York:  Paulist Press, 1988), 44.
16Sawicki, 48-49.
17Sawicki, 46.
18Genesis 2:2, (Amplified Bible). 
19Adam Clarke.  Clarke’s Commentary:  New Testament.  Vol. 1  (Nashville: Abingdon, n.d.), 296.
20This is one of the meanings from the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology.  Walter A. Elwell, ed. Evangelical Deictionary of Theology.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 969. 
21Hindson and Kroll, 1972.
22Clarke, 296.
23Sawicki, 53.
24Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown. Commentary, Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Pub., n.d.), 40.
25Carles R. Erdman.  The Gospel of Mark.  (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 65.
26Clarke, 296.
27Matthew Poole. A Commentary on the Holy Bible. Vol. 3 (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publ, n.d.), 152.
28Bishop Brownrigg cited in Burn, John Henry. The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic Commentary on the Gospel According to Mark. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, n.d.), 94.

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