Jesus has just healed a man who was a paralytic. He also spoke of one of the great acts of religion which is fasting. The Pharisees notice that the disciples of Jesus are making a path through the wheat field. They also notice the disciples are grinding heads of wheat in their hands. This upsets the Pharisees because the disciples are breaking the Sabbath laws in the Torah. There are thirty-nine ways to violate the Sabbath. The disciples are being accused of three of these violations: Reaping, Winnowing, and Threshing.
What is happening here is that there are two schools of thought when it comes to interpreting the Torah. One is very strict and the other is more lenient. This is important because the Sabbath is unique to Israel; none of its neighbors have such a practice. The stricter interpretation of the Sabbath is supposed to remind Israel of God and the Act of Creation. The more lenient school of thought reminds Israel of the Exodus and God’s care for Israel. Mark’s text is reminding his own community that within Mark’s community there are two schools of thought. If one were to study the Torah more closely, the Pharisees would realize that the Torah allowed for pilgrims and travelers to help themselves to the wheat in the fields.
It is interesting that there is a little addendum to the disciples’ actions. They were creating a “path in the wheat field.” I don’t know the significance of this observation, but maybe it is saying that throughout all of our lives we leave our footprint whenever or wherever we walk. Mark is telling his community only decent human beings are able to be good instruments of the Reign of God. Generosity and hope are the hallmarks of discipleship. Life is a choice between law or life. It is not a choice between good and evil but good and phantasy.
Mark’s Gospel is clear that we need to choose life. Life is never so sacred as when it is used to feed the poor, or when it is used for those in need of help. The final arbiter is the use of all things is love. Victor Frankl tells us that if we want to live we must choose life. It we want to love we must Encounter. If we want to Grow we must suffer.
Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., is a member of the Passionist Community in Louisville, Kentucky.