From Mark 2:23-28
“As he was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, and shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
In today’s Gospel reading above, Jesus and his disciples are criticized by the Pharisees because of their violation of the Sabbath regulation to do no work. In fact, many Jews of Jesus’ day and many Jews and Christians still today take this very seriously. A priest friend told me that upon his visit to Jerusalem five years ago he noticed that the elevators, only on the Sabbath, automatically stopped at each floor level so that the orthodox Jews would not violate the Sabbath by lifting a finger to touch the button! Now that’s taking your Sabbath rest seriously! And it is understandable why many take it so seriously. In the Book of Exodus we read, “Remember the sabbath day—keep it holy. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God. You shall not do any work, either you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your work animal, or the resident alien within your gates. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (20:8-11).
The teaching is very clear, God worked for six days and then rested, and the world did not come to a screeching halt because He did! And neither will it come to a screeching halt if we rest. The good Lord gives us 168 each week, but 24 of those hours are not ours to spend. One of those days is God’s, for us to do God’s work. And what is the work God has called us to do? Of course, to love. Jesus commanded His disciples to love God and neighbor (LK 10:27). Sabbath is the day where we repair, nurture, and build the most important relationships in our lives. We love God and love our neighbor. We show that we are not slaves to work, power, influence, and money, but instead reveal that are truly God’s and place our complete trust in Him to sustain us and provide for our every need.
Of course, Christians today don’t take an extreme approach to the Sabbath rest, and Jesus’ teaching today provides some of that reasoning, but I do think that we often don’t take it as seriously enough as we ought, I’m afraid. My life changed radically when I really took this command to keep the Sabbath holy. But before that, let me explain something else. The Sabbath is Saturday. We agree with both Jews and 7th Day Adventists about that. However, Christians have always gathered together on Sunday in celebration of Jesus’ rising. We call Sunday “The Lord’s Day,” and on that day we celebrate the Sabbath. The early Christians were Jews. They gathered at the synagogue on the Sabbath (Saturday) and then gathered in their homes on Sunday to break bread, share the teachings of the apostles, give thanks, and offer prayers. Eventually, Christianity included non Jews and so the Sunday became the only gathering for those Christians. Today, we continue to gather on the Sunday in celebration of the Lord’s Day and on it celebrate and observe the Sabbath. Something like celebrating my birthday on Saturday event though is was on Wednesday because no one would have shown up on the weekday. It’s not the day of the week that matters most but instead celebrating the day of my birth.
We are called to keep that WHOLE day holy! Going to church is a great way to remember and give thanks to God for the blessings, and to be right or get right with others in our community, but the commandment is not to “Go to church for an hour,” but is instead to keep the Sabbath DAY holy. Yes, the whole day. I realized this in college my senior year. You can imagine how busy I was. I was taking twenty-one units, doing student government, acting, working, and playing rugby. Every moment of every day was jam packed. There was just no time for God or what God wanted. I made the decision, however, that if I didn’t get it done by Saturday night then it wasn’t getting done at all. Sunday was God’s day. I could only plan the other 144 hours of my week. My whole life changed.
I woke up on Sunday with a clear calendar. I went to Church and didn’t care if the priest’s homily was long, and I even looked forward to Baptisms during Mass! “Go over,” I thought, “I’ve got the whole day!” I spent time at elderly homes–why not? I had the whole day! I read the Scriptures for hours and books about my faith. I’ve never grown so much in my Spiritual life! What a wonderful gift the Lord has given us in this day of rest. God knew and knows we need it! God does not need our rest, WE DO! That’s exactly what Jesus is trying to teach the Pharisees who were critical of His disciples for picking grain. You see, they missed the whole point, and many Christians today still do.
The Sabbath is not God’s way of imposing a burden upon us. We are burdened enough with life and life’s problems as it is. The Sabbath is a wonderful gift from God to give us the rest that we need to get right with God and neighbor. Yes, to love God and love neighbor. And love sometimes requires a bit of work, but that’s okay, as long as that work is being done for God. I said earlier, in this way we re-pair, nurture, and re-build our relationships. The Sabbath is our opportunity to participate in God’s own work of re-creating and renewing the earth. Take your Sabbath/Lord’s Day more seriously, your relationship with God needs it and your friends, family, and neighbors need you love and attention. Nothing says, “I love you” like time spent. I’m quite sure that’s a country song.