Scripture: Matthew 12:1-14
Key verse: (10) “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”
Reflection: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy … you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God delivered you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5:12, 15)
It’s one of the “Big Ten,” Sabbath observance, a practice that differentiates God’s people from the rest of the world. In Deuteronomy, the reason for Sabbath is that the Israelites knew what it was to be slaves working seven days a week, and so they were commanded to enjoy a day off, a day of freedom to remember the God who saved them from that life of constant work.
For centuries, Christians took Sabbath quite seriously. Stephen Miller, author of “The Peculiar Life of Sundays,” speaks of the Puritan blue laws established in the 17th and 18th centuries. He writes, “There were Connecticut blue laws in the 18th century, which said that you could not kiss your baby. You could not tell a joke. There was absolutely no frivolity on Sunday. And you could not play an instrument.” He continues, “There was a French soldier stationed in Boston, and during the Revolutionary War he started playing the flute. He was arrested. No flute-playing on the Sabbath!” This type of Sabbath observance is in keeping with that of the Pharisees in our reading from Matthew. Jesus rails against such enforcement of relaxation, reminding us Sabbath is made for people, not people for the Sabbath.
I wonder what Jesus would have to say to us about keeping Sabbath these days. The pendulum has certainly swung in the opposite direction. With stores open all hours, athletic tournaments in full swing, the NFL on TV, smart phones connected to work 24/7, we’ve lost any sense of Sabbath rest in our society. Over the past 40 years, the personal importance of Sabbath has plummeted. In 1978, 74% of Americans told Gallup that Sunday had particular religious meaning. Today, less than half of Americans feel the same way. Less than one in four attend a religious service. Sabbath has become just another day we fill with activity like all the other days. We’ve become slaves once again, to the to-do lists of the world, unable to unplug, in constant motion living under the illusion that the world can’t get by without us.
In our reading, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand, even though it was the Sabbath. I wonder what kind of healing Jesus could bring us on the Sabbath, through the Sabbath. Perhaps simply taking one day in seven to rest, to let God be God and to realize the world can turn without us pushing it, maybe that’s the healing we really need. God knows we could use the rest. That’s why God made it a commandment, not just a suggestion.
Prayer: In the midst of a world that demands we keep on keeping on, 24/7, with no rest for the weary, help us remember you have saved us from all that. You delivered us from the yoke of slavery to the Pharaoh’s of the world. You set us free to love you with all we are and our neighbors as ourselves. Help us live in the freedom we can only find in you, that we might remember the Sabbath, keep it holy, and discover the healing you will for us all. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].