If yesterday’s story needed a bit of explanation – why was rubbing grain an issue? – today’s passage is rather more straightforward. We’re still looking at Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees regarding the Sabbath, and the fundamental question we posed yesterday still applies: what is the point of the Sabbath? Why did God give it to us? And, therefore, how can we use it wisely?
Yesterday, the disagreement with the Pharisees centred around complex rules regarding what constituted ‘work’ when it came to preparing food. Today, it is more direct: Jesus is asked to heal someone on the Sabbath. Bearing in mind that he’s in the synagogue (i.e. worshipping the Lord, as the Sabbath is designed for) and he’s not getting paid to heal anyone, it almost beggars belief that this act of kindness could be classed as ‘work’, and therefore breaking the fourth commandment. But there it is – that’s why he’s under scrutiny.
Jesus’ reply once again gets to the heart of what we might call the spirit of the law. Can it possibly be wrong to do good on the Sabbath? Surely loving our neighbour in simple but practical ways is exactly the sort of thing God would encourage us to do?
It’s a healthy reminder to us that we, too, can use our days of rest in a number of beneficial ways. Generally, as a society we’re paying a heavy price for abandoning our commitment to a day of rest for most of the country at the same time, and it’s right to keep challenging ourselves to find ways to make sure we rest appropriately…
…however, rest does not have to mean total inactivity – that’s the trap the Pharisees had fallen into. Serving in the worshipping community on the Sabbath is a good thing to do; doing something simple which blesses another human being on our Sabbath – if it isn’t our paid employment – is a good thing to do. If it restores our wellbeing (and many of us find simple acts of blessing restorative) then it’s using the Sabbath as it should be used.
As we reflect on Jesus’ life-giving teaching over the last couple of days, take a moment to review your ‘Sabbaths’. Are there any changes Jesus is prompting you to make? Whatever your reflections on that question, pray today for a renewed commitment to practising healthy Sabbaths, that it might command a blessing for you, and those around you.