Theological Insights from a Modern Perspective

The Sabbath

This post combines four teachings – one on picking grain, three on healing someone, all are really about the same thing – keeping the Sabbath. Do we do it any better today than the Pharisees did in Jesus’ time?

Plucking Grain on the Sabbath
Matt 12:1-8 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Mark 2:23-28 One Sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. And the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did, when he was in need and was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, when Abi′athar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those who were with him?” Luke 6:1-5 On a Sabbath, while he was going through the grainfields, his disciples plucked and ate some heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?”
Or have you not read in the law how on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
For the past Son of man is lord of the Sabbath.” And 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.” And he said to them, “The Son of man is lord of the Sabbath.”

 

The Man with a Withered Hand
Matt 12:9-14 And he went on from there, and entered their synagogue. And behold, there was a man with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. Mark 3:1-6 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. And they watched him, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. Luke 6:6-11 On another Sabbath, when he entered the synagogue and taught, a man was there whose right hand was withered. And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find an accusation against him.
He said to them, “What man of you, if he has one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, And he rose and stood there. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to destroy it?” And he looked around on them all,
Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, whole like the other. But the Pharisees went out and took counsel against him, how to destroy him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come here.” and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out, and immediately held counsel with the Hero′di-ans against him, how to destroy him. But he knew their thoughts, and he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” and said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” And he did so, and his hand was restored. But they were filled with fury and discussed with one another what they might do to Jesus.

Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman
Luke 13:10-17 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath , said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

Jesus Heals the Man with Dropsy
Luke 14:1-6 One Sabbath when he went to dine at the house of a ruler who belonged to the Pharisees, they were watching him. And behold, there was a man before him who had dropsy. And Jesus spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath , or not?” But they were silent. Then he took him and healed him, and let him go. And he said to them, “Which of you, having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well, will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” And they could not reply to this.

Jesus is having a real problem with the Pharisees over the Sabbath, they are just not understanding what he is trying to tell them. To be honest, it’s not all their fault, this is how they were taught, and their fathers, and their fathers before them. They’ve had it wrong probably not long after Moses brought the tablets down from Mt. Sinai. They are an overly cautious group, not wanting to make even the slightest infraction, so involved in paying attention to the details that they are missing the big picture. Reminds me of an episode of NCIS where Abby and McGee are so focused on stopping a hacker from trying to get into her computer that they overlook the obvious…Gibbs unplugs the computer.

In the first story we see Jesus and his disciples walking through a field, hungry for a long journey, and no Papa John’s in sight, so they start picking the grains from the wheat and eating them. Plus, this is 1st Century Israel, even if the found a Papa John’s it wasn’t going to be open on the Sabbath. Now, I have been out hiking and gotten hungry, I’ve plucked small berries from the plants and eaten them. You have to pluck one heck of a lot of grain to satisfy your hunger, the best you can hope for is to stop the grumbling until you can get somewhere that you can actually get something to eat. The Pharisees see what they are doing and complain to Jesus, why is he letting them do work on the Sabbath? Jesus points out that even their beloved David desecrated the Law by eating the bread reserved for only the temple priests. He also points out how the Pharisees themselves break the Sabbath by performing work on the Sabbath – offerings had to be prepared, the bread had to be baked fresh, even circumcisions had to be done if the eight day fell on the Sabbath. Gotcha!

It didn’t stop there, three more times they would come after Jesus for doing “work” on the Sabbath – but these times he was healing the ill – a man with a withered hand, an infirmed woman, and a man with Dropsy. Each time Jesus takes pity on the person and heals them. In each of these cases Jesus gets angry with the hardness of the Pharisees, and compares what he is doing to the work that they would do if one of the animals of their flocks was trapped. They know they would take pity on the animal and rescue it, shouldn’t we take pity on a person who is trapped in their illness and free them from their sin?

This type of hypocrisy is still alive in modern Jewish life to some extent (many realize the hypocrisy and refuse to partake in it) in what is referred to as a Shabbos Goy (a gentile who performs certain tasks that the Jew is not permitted). Even though many Rabbis have come out against it, and created asmachta (text to further explain something) to clarify the positions, some still find “loopholes” around it. Myth of the Shabbos Goy

Now, we are no less guilty of this ourselves. How many times are people put down for working at Walmart on Sunday, while good church-goers are busy at home mowing the lawn, making dinner, washing the car? Work is work, and having to earn money to put food on your family’s table is no different than having to cook that food. As I have said before, it all comes down to hypocrisy. It’s okay for us to do our labors, but God forbid if someone else works!

I remember as a youth when the Blue Laws were in effect, none but a few industries could be open. If you did work you were expected to ask forgiveness for such deplorable actions. Yet, off we went to watch a ballgame, go to the local beach to enjoy a day in the sun and surf, then stop off on the way home for a hot meal at the diner. Little thought was given to the ballplayers, concession stand workers, lifeguards, cooks, waitresses. No, it was okay for them to work, because we needed what they offered, but God forbid if we were asked to work a Sunday!

Yes, Jesus has a good lesson to teach here, not just to the Pharisees, but to us as well. Will we hear it any better than they did?

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