Sabbath is a gift from God that allows the contemplative side of our humanity to be nourished so that we can flourish.
Because the Bible is skewed in favor of Jesus, the poor Pharisees always seem like the bad guys. Even if they come off as being a bit pious or have a large stick up their…shirt, the Pharisees really are the good guys – the keepers and protectors of God’s law.
They’ve been doing this for nearly 200 years, when Jesus shows up on the scene to tell them they got it wrong. He does not do this to be combative, but instead to remind them of their true calling, to make sure that God’s children understand and learn how to live in the Spirit the law written on their hearts, and not be enslaved to it– be it on the Sabbath or in the ordinariness of life.
As Trish Warren writes in her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, “God is always forming us into new people. And the place of that formation is in the small moments of life.”
Jesus knew this and practiced this well. Even though he was the Son of God, Warren argues, Jesus lived a pretty ordinary human life. He got hungry. He smelled after a long day at work on the construction site. He had to clip his toenails, wash behind his ears, and eat his vegetables even if he didn’t like them. Jesus was just like us. And as his followers, we are called to be just like him, even in ordinariness of our lives. We can make excuses about how busy we are, but I’m sure Jesus had a pretty busy calendar, you know with all the healing and preaching, and turning water into wine.
Even on the most ordinary of days, Jesus remained a child of God, obedient and holy, loving and kind. Not only did he uphold the Torah law, but he also lived it out perfectly in every aspect of his life. Because of this, whenever the religious leaders confronted Jesus he could stand in their judgment and rightfully hold up a mirror up to their faces. What might we see if Jesus did that to us?
Today’s reading is one of those encounters. The Pharisees judge Jesus because of what his disciples are doing – picking wheat. Who cares if you’re hungry, right? The Sabbath when the law strictly prohibited people from working on this special day. Rules are rules, and God’s rules can’t be broken.
But Jesus’ disagreement with the Pharisees is not over something trivial- like plucking grain. It’s about the action of Sabbath rest itself, and its relationship to our everyday, busy lives. So what is it about Sabbath that is so special?
You might know Sabbath law has a long history in Judaism, dating back to creation itself when God rested after making all this stuff.
But as we read in Deuteronomy, it also spoke to the liberation of God’s people from over 400 years of slavery in Egypt where they were literally being worked to death. It’s hard to enjoy this magnificent playground if you’re dead.
God handed Moses a law that required a day off from work to celebrate all God has done for us, his children. For six days you can work as long as you want on your budget report, but on the seventh close your Excel spreadsheet and take some time for sheer inactivity.
Rest your body, recharge the batteries, and relax your mind so that you can find new solutions to old problems. Or spend time catching up with family and friends…in other words, Don’t Work Yourself To Death!
More than a day off, Sabbath is also a time to be in God’s shalom, to dwell in God’s presence and find your spiritual peace. Sabbath is a gift from God that allows the contemplative side of our humanity to be nourished so that we can flourish. And grow closer to God.
The Pharisees must have forgotten this as they criticized the disciples for feeding themselves. Again, this was a simple, mundane task, no different than brushing your teeth or making your bed. And only the hardest of hearts would see it as breaking an ancient, time-honored law.
Jesus reminds the Pharisees that God gave us the laws, not to condemn us or enslave us, but to free us so that we can live in accordance to God’s righteousness. To get them to listen, Jesus tells the story of the mighty King David who fed his troops the sacred and holy bread of the Presence that only priest could eat.
By claiming “the Sabbath was made for humankind,” and not the other way around, Jesus continues to reminds us that God gave us a day of rest so we would never forget the holiness of our own liberation and the sacredness of our restoration. We honor the day, not with busyness but with blessedness.
Whenever we see Jesus and the Pharisees clash, we get a contrast between traditions and intentions. Jesus always draws a line between a religion that hardens hearts…and a gospel that opens hearts to the unbounded love and presence of God.
This is our Sabbath. And this is how we celebrate it with each other. It’s not very traditional by church standards, but whenever we gather to worship or be with each other in Christ’s name we are taking rest from our busyness. It’s here, in these ordinary holy moments that we remember we are God’s children – not slaves to our labor, our paychecks, or the things we buy with the money from our toil.
From meeting with people, having honest conversations, putting in long hours at work, sitting in traffic, grocery shopping, volunteering at your kid’s school, or taking a moment to enjoy sheer inactivity - every aspect of our life has a purpose in God’s kingdom.
For it’s in these moments we find Jesus standing in our midst, holding up a mirror for us to look in, and reminding us how to fulfill the will of God with a joyful heart, and not merely observe it or check it off our to-do list.
Bartlett, David L and Barbara Brown Taylor, Feasting on the Word, Year B Vol. 4. (Westminster John Knox: 2007).
Keller, Tim. http://qideas.org/articles/wisdom-and-sabbath-rest. (2015) June 1, 2018.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”