Jesus and Civil Disobedience

Jesus bus
Photo credit: <a href="">Seth Anderson</a>

Mark 2:23-28

One Sunday, as Jesus crossed a field where grain was growing, his students picked some of the grain. The legalists confronted him, saying, “Look! What they’re doing is breaking the blue laws.”

He told them, “Haven’t you ever read the story of King David? How he and his friends were hungry and got the food they needed by taking the bread out of the Temple, from the special holy stash kept only for the priests. David ate it and gave it to his friends.” Jesus continued, “The day of rest was made for people, not people for the day of rest. So, if you’re human, you get to decide about your day of rest.”

Yes, technically, historically, it would have been Saturday. Well, it could have been Friday after sundown. But our Blue Laws in the US were about Sunday. Go to a historically Muslim country and it will be Friday. Many Pastors take Monday as their “Sabbath” and are just as legalistic about it as any Pharisee.

The point is not which day. The point is what the day is about. We need a rest that is truly restful and re-creative. On a personal level no amount of legislation can enact it. Legislation is to protect against business and commerce precluding the opportunity. The 40 hour work week. The requirement that employees get a day off. These are safeguards against abuse. What you do with your time off is up to you.

More broadly, there is another issue. It’s what happens when laws enacted as safeguards are re-interpreted in ways that become abusive. Laws originally meant to provide shelters that will increase opportunity (say that corporations are given some legal protections afforded individuals), are misinterpreted in ways that institutionalize unfair advantages and preclude opportunity (corporations become de facto legal persons).

In other words, what Jesus means is: the law is supposed to serve people; people are not slaves to the law. Even Augustine realized that “an unjust law is no law at all.” (On Free Choice Of The Will, Book 1, ยง 5)

It’s the foundation on which Christian civil disobedience and non-violent protest is based.