January 11, 2021
23 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” 25 And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26 He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” 27 Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28 so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”
I am making a huge jump in the sabbath story today - I realize that. There is much in scripture about the sabbath in the stories of the Old Testament - practices and a host of laws that pertain to the sabbath. This was a pattern that continues up to and through the time of Jesus. The Pharisees, a religious sect of the day, had complicated the sabbath law to such an extent that it had become almost laughable. One can almost imagine the 'making it up as you go along' nature of the sabbath rules.
There were, for example, 39 categories of activities that were prohibited - sowing, plowing, reaping, gathering into sheaves, kneading, baking...etc. And each of these categories had their own 39 principal classes of prohibited actions: sowing, plowing, reaping, gathering into sheaves, threshing, winnowing, cleansing, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking . . . Each of these chief enactments was further discussed and elaborated, so that actually there were several hundred things a conscientious, law-abiding Jew could not do on the sabbath.
For example, the prohibition about tying a knot was much too general, and so it became necessary to state what kinds of knots were prohibited and what kind not. It was accordingly laid down that allowable knots were those that could be untied with one hand . . .
The religious leaders taught that if a house caught on fire on the Sabbath, its inhabitants couldn't carry their clothes out of the house to spare them from the flames because that would be bearing a burden. However, they were allowed to put on all the layers of clothing they could wear and thus remove the clothes by wearing them, which was acceptable.
This was the kind of hypercritical religious atmosphere Jesus Christ entered with His teaching and preaching. Is it any wonder that when Jesus clashed with the Pharisees, he reframed the sabbath in terms of freedom rather than restriction - suggesting that mercy (to heal, to satisfy hunger) is a far greater motivator for sabbath action than detailed laws.
I believe there is a deep lesson here for us; that sometimes that which seems restrictive is actually offered in order to provide us a greater freedom. Sabbath rest offers to us the freedom to focus on God; the freedom to give up control through work and effort; the freedom to recreate and restore our energy; the freedom to simply BE - perhaps reminding ourselves once again that the love of God is not dependent upon our striving.
What do you think? Is there freedom for you in sabbath rest?