Best of Daily Reflections: The Purpose of the Sabbath, Part 1
Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.”
Jesus and the Pharisees often disagreed on what it meant to keep the Sabbath. When the disciples of Jesus broke off some grains in a field on the Sabbath, the Pharisees considered this to be work—a clear violation of their interpretation of the Sabbath. But Jesus didn’t accept the Pharisaic view of things. He pointed to the example of David who broke the ritual law by eating bread reserved for the priests. Then he added, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath” (2:27). More literally, this verse reads, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, not humankind for the Sabbath.”
For centuries, Christians have debated the issue of the Sabbath. Is it something Christians should honor? Or is it merely optional? Or is it a part of Jewish tradition that we should forget about? Or . . . ? There is no way that I can deal with such big questions here. But I do want to draw our attention to what Jesus actually said about the Sabbath. It was made for people. The NLT rightly renders the sense by translating, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people.”
And what are these needs for which God made the Sabbath? Rest from regular work. Enjoyment of creation. Feasting with family and friends. Time for the renewing of primary relationships. Worship. Prayer. Spiritual, physical, emotional, and relational refreshment. Some rabbis even encourage married couples to have sex on the Sabbath. God set aside a day for rest so that people might enjoy him and the goodness of his creation.
It seems to me that no matter how we Christians work out the specifics, the teaching of Jesus about the purpose of the Sabbath speaks to us today. In a world so filled with busyness, where electronic communication invades every moment, where people are running ragged and neglecting their most important relationships, we need the gift of rest. We need to set aside time on a regular basis to stop our normal activity so that we might enjoy God and his good gifts. The Sabbath, says Jesus, was made for our own good.
FOR REFLECTION: How do you think about the Sabbath and its relevance for your life? Do you set aside time on a regular basis for rest? Have you ever thought about the possibility that God made the Sabbath for you?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, as you know, the issue of Sabbath is one we Christians aren’t quite sure about. In fact, there is widespread disagreement among us about whether we’re to keep the Sabbath or not. Those who advocated some kind of Sabbath-keeping disagree substantially on what this means. Clearly, we need some extra help with this one.
That’s true, Lord, not just in the larger arena of Christian theology and practice, but also in our own lives. Most of us live such frantic and full lives that we rarely set aside time for intentional rest. We don’t know how to stop. So help us, Lord, to discover your gift of rest in our personal lives. Preserve us from the legalism that so easily develops when people start talking about Sabbath. May we learn to live in your grace more fully by setting aside regular time for resting in you. Amen.