One sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’
Do you remember the days when Sundays were treated as ‘special’? Shops were shut; only truly essential workers worked; the focus was on rest, recuperation and, for many, worshipping God. Sunday, the Sabbath, was, in honour and remembrance of the seventh day of creation and the fourth commandment, a day of rest. Of course, as is the way with human beings, some took the notion of ‘sabbath’ to extremes. With a zeal reminiscent of the Pharisees, some condemned any sort of activity, other than sitting quietly at home, as contravening God’s commandment to remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). As we read the fourth commandment it should become obvious to us that God did not intend the Sabbath to be a burden. God intended our remembrance of the Sabbath to be a blessing and a gift.
In today’s reading Jesus is being challenged by the Pharisees about his disciples’ apparent lack of respect for the Sabbath. This challenge was in accordance with the custom that any teacher should be held responsible for the behaviour of his disciples. However, things are not that simple. In the first instance, the disciples were obeying the law of Moses which says: If you go into your neighbour’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand (Deuteronomy 23:25). Secondly, Jesus makes it plain that the satisfying of immediate need, i.e. hunger, even on the Sabbath, had strong precedent. Jesus recalls the time when hunger pressed the great King David and his companions into consuming the Holy Bread of the Temple (1 Samuel 21:1-6). The Sabbath is a gift … not a burden.
The major Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam all honour days of Sabbath, on Sunday, Saturday and Friday respectively. Religious observance and everyday necessity dictate the integrity of some fluidity in recognizing that Sabbath cannot always be on the same day of the week … but, it should always be there!
Jesus tells the Pharisees, those self-appointed arbiters of religious good taste, that he is the Lord of the Sabbath. This is a fact that we need to cling to today in a way that has never been so important in the whole history of humanity. We live in a time and in a society that has blurred the edges of so many things, and particularly the commandments of God. Rather than working seven days in every week, as is made so easy by modern technology, we should remember and honour God’s great gift from the dawn of time. We should remember the Sabbath, the day of rest, given to us that we might live our lives to the full. Let us remember the Sabbath day, and let us treasure it as something holy in our lives.