One sabbath while Jesus was going through the cornfields, his disciples plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them. But some of the Pharisees said, ‘Why are you doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ Jesus answered, ‘Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and gave some to his companions?’ Then he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’
The notion of sabbath spans the entire history of the human race. We all need a time of sabbath, a time of rest. When God created the world, we read in scripture of his resting on the seventh day. In the book of Exodus, we read that this day of rest, on the seventh day of the week, is something commanded by God, and that such a day of rest should be viewed as a holy day. Thus, the sabbath is not just a ‘day off’, rather it is a day for rest and worship.
In these modern times, people seem to be working longer and longer hours. As the limit of effective working within the period of one day draws to a close, so the work spills over into the next day. Then, each day spills over into the next and, suddenly, we find ourselves working without any proper time of rest, let alone rest associated with worship!
Doctors of various kinds tell us that we need to rest. They tell us that we need adequate sleep and at least one day in seven when we do not work at all. The teachings on the Sabbath make perfect sense as a way of creating and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, but the pressures of modern life stand in the way of our ever achieving this God-given rhythm in our lives.
Human beings are good at making rules. We have rules about every aspect of our lives. We apply rules to ourselves and to our families, and we like to criticize others for not obeying those ‘rules’. But, what are those rules meant to achieve? There is little evidence that many of the rules we are expected to obey have any real benefit to either our physical or spiritual lives. Rather, the endless list of rules, and our obeying of those same rules, seem to have a closer association with the maintenance of societal norms that have nothing to do with our relationship with God.
The notion of Sabbath has been undermined by the way modern society works, but it is not irrelevant. We can still set aside one day per week to rest and worship the God who created us and cares for us. And if we struggle with justifying that one day per week to ourselves, then we need to recall Jesus’ words at the end of today’s reading: The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.
Let us pray that we might learn to prioritise our weekly day of rest and worship in order that we might be healthier and stronger disciples of Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. Let us pray that we might resist the temptation to trivialize our day of rest, turning it into a time of self-indulgence with no thought of God at all. Let us for ever remember God’s own example: And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. (Genesis 2:2-3). I wish you all a happy, peaceful and prayerful Sabbath … no matter which day of the week it is.