A Question about the Sabbath
(Matthew 12.1-8; Mark 2.23-28)
1 One Sabbath when Jesus and his disciples were walking through some wheat fields, the disciples picked some wheat. They rubbed the husks off with their hands and started eating the grain.
2Some Pharisees said, “Why are you picking grain on the Sabbath? You're not supposed to do that!”
3 Jesus answered, “You surely have read what David did when he and his followers were hungry. 4 He went into the house of God and took the sacred loaves of bread that only priests were supposed to eat. He not only ate some himself, but even gave some to his followers.”
5Jesus finished by saying, “The Son of Man is Lord over the Sabbath.”
A Man with a Paralyzed Hand
(Matthew 12.9-14; Mark 3.1-6)
6On another Sabbath Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, and a man with a paralyzed right hand was there. 7Some Pharisees and teachers of the Law of Moses kept watching Jesus to see if he would heal the man. They did this because they wanted to accuse Jesus of doing something wrong.
8Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he told the man to stand up where everyone could see him. And the man stood up. 9Then Jesus asked, “On the Sabbath should we do good deeds or evil deeds? Should we save someone's life or destroy it?”
10After he had looked around at everyone, he told the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did, and his bad hand became completely well.
11The teachers and the Pharisees were furious and started saying to one another, “What can we do about Jesus?”
The law is a good thing. Laws give us definition. They help us understand the boundaries and keep a check on violence – that is until they themselves become their own kind of violence.
What does one do when the law prohibits one from healing a disease or saving a life? Jean Valjean stole a loaf of bread to feed his starving family. Corrie Ten Boom hid her Jewish neighbors so to save them from the Nazis. Jesus healed a shriveled man, even though it was the Sabbath. Sometimes, it seems, the law might well be broken.
This gospel story doesn’t end well for Jesus. In a classic case of losing the forest for the trees, the Pharisees leave more committed to the law than to the intention the law was supposed to serve, missing that the purpose of the law is as servant to the Master.
The law of the Sabbath is a good thing. It reminds us to sustain a day for God and for his worship. It reinforces the principle that production is not our only value. It assists us in the pursuit of things that are right and holy.
But the Sabbath is not an end in itself. The goal is to serve God and when Jesus healed this man, God was glorified and the authority of Jesus was made more evident, which is, in fact, the purpose of the law.
I value the law of the Sabbath as a stimulus to worship and as a reminder of my need for godly rest. Yet I understand that the law is servant to the Master – the Lord of the Sabbath who makes our worship meaningful and who allows our Sabbath rest.
Dear Lord, Thank you for helping me with the discipline I so sorely need. Yet, when I am tempted to make the law my God, would you bring my perspective back in focus? Help me to master the law in service to the Master – and allow me then to rest in your provision. Amen.