In our day and age, it is hard to find rest. We are always connected and that has changed our hearts. We often feel important and needed when we can’t turn off our Blackberries, and can’t stop working. That’s today’s reality.
In a different way, it was hard to find rest in Jesus’ day. It was simply hard work to survive, eat and sleep in shelter. But the Jewish people had one major distinctive, the day of rest God gave at creation, and that they had been instructed to preserve.
But over time, a religious codification of law had been built onto God’s plan for Sabbath rest at creation. We see it in a story of some Pharisees, or religious legalists, and their conflict with Jesus here:
On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.” (Luke 6:1-5 ESV)
Here we can see how the Pharisees had made even a day of rest into hard work. The Sabbath, even as it’s observed today, can become a strange mixture of freedom and peaceful rest, and concern and anxiety for legal compliance.
For example, I have a friend who lived in Israel for a short time, who would tell stories of a mad rush to get enough food before sunset on Friday when the Sabbath began. Then she’d take long walks to visit with a friend…all to avoid operating a car. What’s more work – walking or driving?
Or at Toronto’s Mount Sinai hospital there is a Sabbath elevator that stops at every floor on Saturdays, so no buttons need to be pressed. You can see how carefully work has been defined – button pushing is too much, but walking is okay.
The proper way to take Sabbath rest is still debated today – including debates on how strictly Christians should apply the Old Testament laws about Sabbath as a day of worship and rest. There is a clue here in the passage we’re exploring this week, where the Pharisees are confronting Jesus about his disciples eating on what was supposed to be a day of rest. They are plucking grain left for poor travellers like themselves, and rubbing it between their hands to make it edible, which was one of 39 types of work forbidden by the teachers of the law.
Note how Jesus responsds. He doesn’t laugh it off as an old throwback idea. No, he takes it somewhere different, he seems to say rest is vitally important, and that it is what he’s all about. He says he’s the Lord of the Sabbath. We saw in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ intention is not to throw away the law, nor to adopt the Pharisees’ interpretation of it wholesale, but rather to fulfill its original purpose. He reveals the point of the whole law to be…himself!
Question: What was your experience of weekends growing up? Was either day set aside as a day of rest?