Lord of the Sabbath
And Jesus added, "The Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath."
I grew up thinking that the Sabbath wasn't for most Christians. I knew that my friend Danny, as a Seventh-Day Adventist, had to go to Sabbath-school on Saturday mornings. I was grateful that I wasn't Danny's kind of Christian. Besides, I thought that Jesus set us free from having to observe the Sabbath. Wasn't that what we learned from the Gospels?
Well, yes and no. To be sure, Jesus did not follow the hyper-strict Sabbath rules established by the Pharisees and other legalistic Jews of his day. He allowed his disciples to pick grain and eat it on the Sabbath. He also healed people on the Sabbath. This behavior enraged his Jewish opponents because, for them, meticulous Sabbath-keeping stood at the center of faithful Judaism. From their point of view, Jesus was transgressing God's covenant, and therefore both threatening national identity and sinning against God himself.
But Jesus did not reject the idea of devoting a day per week for rest and spiritual refreshment. In fact, he claimed that as the Son of Man, he was also Lord of the Sabbath (6:5). This meant that he had the authority to determine what sort of behavior was fitting for the Sabbath day. Doing good, such as healing someone, was not just allowable, but ultimately consistent with the restorative purpose of the Sabbath.
Throughout the past twenty centuries, Christians have differed widely in their understanding and practice of the Sabbath. Some have ignored it entirely, especially in our day. Others have turned the Sabbath (or, more often, Sunday, the Lord's Day) into a Pharasaic list of dos and don'ts, mostly don'ts. Surely a legalistic approach to the Sabbath is inconsistent with the teaching and example of Jesus.
But I wonder if, in an age dominated by overwork and overspending, in a time when many of us never escape from the demands of our jobs or the distractions of the media, we should ask afresh what it might mean for Jesus to be the Lord of the Sabbath . . . for us. Is it possible that he might want us to discover how the freedom he offers includes the freedom to stop working and imitate God by resting each week on a regular basis? Could this be a gift that the Lord of the Sabbath might want to offer to us?
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What is your understanding of how Christians may or should observe the Sabbath? Do you take a break from work in your life? How might a regular time of rest figure into your life?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, today I'm reminded that you are Lord of the Sabbath. Of course you're also Lord of me! So I ask that you help me to learn how I might think about the Sabbath. Teach me how I might discover the gift of regular rest. Help me not to be snared in the web of legalism and judgmentalism. Rather, in the freedom you offer, may I learn how to stop and rest so as to be refreshed in your love and grace.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath. Amen.