Tag Archives: Sabbath

Rest?

This is the time in the year when we move from Sunday readings going through the great themes of Christian faith (Creation at Harvest, the preparation of Advent before the birth of Jesus at Christmas, then how he was made known through Epiphany, the cost in Lent, his death and resurrection, ascension, the coming of the Holy Spirit, ending with a week to think about God – phew!) to spending time on the implications.  Today’s reading (Mark 2:23 – 3:6) tells us of two arguments about the Sabbath.

In twenty first century western culture, we have rather given up on a shared day of rest.  Not only do we need people to keep the hospitals open and the lights on, we assume we can go shopping, or for a meal.  The cost, often paid by the poor who have to take jobs which prevent them spending time with their families, is seldom considered.  But lack of rest affects many, who are constantly busy, often tired, and stressed.  Perhaps Christians need to reflect on the Sabbath principle.

The commandment to free the seventh day from work is found in the ten commandments.  Exodus 20 (verse 8ff) relates it to the creation – saying in effect that the need to stand back and rest is part of how we are made.  Deuteronomy 5 (verse 15), repeating the command, takes it to the release from slavery in Egypt.  Either way, the observance of a seventh day of rest became a distinctive characteristic of Jewish people.

Unfortunately, the principle was overlaid – perhaps even strangled! – with human traditions.  Jesus disciples are criticised, not for doing a day’s work, but for quenching their hunger with a handful of grain. (The “work” is rubbing the ears to release the grain).  Jesus kind healing is similarly seen as breaking the tradition.  It will become a key issue in the conflict which will see him killed.

That leaves us to try and understand how our lives should provide for rest, worship, and practicality – for ourselves and others.  The command to keep one day free at all costs in not repeated in the New Testament, though there are instructions not to neglect gathering for worship (which requires the congregation to share free time!). I hope there will be a doctor, policeman, or other emergency service available when needed – but should I be choosing to shop on a Sunday, travel on a Sunday, or make others work that day when it isn’t necessary?  Jesus was hard on unthinking tradition, but never complained about the principle of having – and allowing others – sabbath rest and worship.

Win – Lose? (Proper 16, Pentecost 14)

Who would complain at someone doing right? Those threatened by it.

Jesus heals a woman bent for 18 years (Luke 13:10-17).  Wonderful, everybody is pleased – aren’t they?  Well, no.  The synagogue official complains that it isn’t right, the Sabbath law is being broken.

Jesus response is first to say that if Sabbath law allows an animal to be freed to be taken to water, it certainly allows a woman to be freed from a worse constraint.  His second point is more severe.  This healing is not “work” so much as setting free from the power of evil.  No one argues with him, at least not immediately, but opposition is growing and this is the last time Luke tells us of Jesus in a synagogue.

So, given this was so long ago, does it matter?  We might look at Christian attitudes to rest, and think how the Devil would bend them:

  • one way to avoid a useful time of refreshment, worship and gaining perspective would be to over-emphasise the rule.  Let it be absolute, but also purposeless, negative, empty, hollow.  That should keep people away from God, and God’s intention in a day of rest.
  • another (more common in my experience) would be to rubbish Sunday observance.  They could tell stories of not being allowed to play on Sundays as children, and forget how others needed rest.  Let people do as they want,  Let people overwork, make sure families have no time together, and make the Church family unable to meet all together at one time.  Make it hardest for the poor, who will not be able to refuse unsocial work hours.

Jesus will do neither.  His first concern is for God, his second for people.  He keeps the Law, but not always as others have been in the habit of doing.  We could learn from that.  Living by rules is never enough (it is what can give religion a bad name!), but refusing all discipline is no answer either. We have to learn Jesus priorities: love and serve God, love and serve other people, don’t reject rules, but never let them be an excuse for avoiding the first two priorities.

” And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” ” (Luke 13:16)  Certainly, yes, she should be released, and we should be finding our own freedom and bringing release to others by the power and grace of God.