Sabbath and Work (Luke 6:1-11; 13:10-17)

Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project

The Sabbath is an essential part of the biblical understanding of work, and Jesus teaches about the Sabbath in the Gospel of Luke. Work and rest are not opposing forces, but elements of a rhythm that make good work and true recreation possible. Ideally, that rhythm meets people’s needs for provision and health, but in a fallen world, there are times when it does not.

Lord of the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11)

In Luke 6:1-5, it is the Sabbath, and Jesus and his disciples are hungry. They pluck heads of grain in a field, rub them in their hands, and eat the kernels. Some Pharisees complain that this constitutes threshing and is therefore working on the Sabbath. Jesus responds that David and his companions also broke the sacred rules when they were hungry, entering the house of God and eating the consecrated bread that only priests were allowed to eat. We might imagine that the connection between these two episodes is hunger. When you are hungry it is permissible to work to feed yourself, even if it means working on the Sabbath. But Jesus draws a somewhat different conclusion. “The Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath” (Luke 6:5). This suggests that keeping the Sabbath is grounded in understanding God’s heart, rather than developing increasingly detailed rules and exceptions.

Set Free on the Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17)

Making time off predictable and required

Read more here about a new study regarding rhythms of rest and work done at the Boston Consulting Group by two professors from Harvard Business School. It showed that when the assumption that everyone needs to be always available was collectively challenged, not only could individuals take time off, but their work actually benefited. (Harvard Business Review may show an ad and require registration in order to view the article.) Mark Roberts also discusses this topic in his Life for Leaders devotional "Won't Keeping the Sabbath Make Me Less Productive?"

Other healings Jesus performs on the Sabbath are described in Luke 6:9 and 14:5. Nonetheless, it would be hard to piece together a theology of  the Sabbath from only the events in Luke. But we can observe that Jesus anchors his understanding of the Sabbath in the needs of people. Human needs come before keeping the Sabbath, even though keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. Yet by meeting human needs on the Sabbath, the commandment is fulfilled, not abolished. The healing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath provides a particularly rich example of this. “There are six days on which work ought to be done,” the indignant synagogue ruler chides the crowd. “Come on those days and be cured and not on the sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). Jesus’ reply begins with the law. If people water their animals on the Sabbath, as was lawful, “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16).

Additional discussions of the Sabbath — in some cases with a differing perspective — can be found under "Mark 1:21-45" and "Mark 2:23-3:6" in Mark and Work, and in the article Rest and Work at www.theologyofwork.org.