Lenten Devotional (Day 5) - The Gift of Sabbath
Monday, February 22, 2021 - Scripture: Mark 2:18-28
Then he said to them “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Mark 2:27-28
From as early as I can remember, Sunday was “church day”. As a young child we would all get dressed in our best Sunday suits and dresses and off to church we would go. Not only was it a day to go to church but it was a day to get together with friends and family to eat and play together.
As I read the final portion of the 2nd chapter of Mark’s gospel I am reminded of my relationship with the Sabbath—a day of worship, and intentional rest and play. In this instance, Jesus, as was typical, did something which upset the religious gatekeepers of his day—in this case, the Pharisees.
To our modern ears it seems like a rather trivial thing which incited the ire of the Pharisees—plucking the heads of grain in a grain field—and yet in the minds of the Pharisees this was a blatant case of Sabbath rule-breaking.
Over the generations between the initial giving of the Mosaic laws to the Hebrew people in the wake of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (see Exodus 20), the Sabbath had become a day synonymous with rule keeping and avoiding a lengthy list of arbitrary rules about what constituted breaking the Sabbath laws.
Using the initial command to keep the Sabbath holy, refraining from work, the Pharisees has turned what was meant to be a gift from God into a tedious and burdensome list of rules.
Rather than simply ignoring the Pharisees accusations against him and his disciples, nor resorting to anger and impatience in his response, Jesus tactfully appeals to other passages of Scripture which would have been known to his opponents. In doing so, he both shows his prowess in recalling and using the Scriptures as a means of reminding the Pharisees—as well as any others present—the true meaning and motive of the Sabbath.
Like the Pharisees, it is all to easy to turn the good gifts of God into rigid rules that need following. In doing so they can become cumbersome and not be experienced as pure gift God intended for us to experience the holiness of rest, play and corporate worship.
Of course, the other temptation is not to distort the gift making it unattractive, but to leave the gift unopened altogether. Just as it would be foolish to leave a birthday or Christmas gift unopened, so too is neglecting the gift of Sabbath unwise. As James reminds us, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
In a culture that continues to bombard us with the message that our inherent worth and value is proportionate to what we produce and consume, let us continue to open, explore and enjoy the subversive and beautiful gift of Sabbath as we enjoy the good gifts of worship, rest and play as God intended us to.