Sabbath Joy – Br. James Koester

Matthew 12: 1-8

My mother grew up, at least in the summers, with her Methodist minister grandfather who was quite a strict Sabbatarian. As a grown woman she remembered the Sundays of her childhood as full of rules, regulations, and restrictions. She could not swim unless it was over 100 degrees. She was not allowed to call on her friends but had to sit quietly with her younger sister reading. Sunday dinner, which had been cooked the day before and in spite of being kept warm in the oven, was cold, overcooked and tasteless. To me, and obviously to her as she spoke of it, it sounded dreadful.

Today’s gospel pulls us in to yet another confrontation between Jesus and a group of Pharisees. This time the argument is about sabbath keeping. It’s an argument I think my mother would understand.

It’s easy for us read this passage and once again to vilify the Pharisees, setting them up over and against Jesus, and always on the loosing side. Rather than doing that, let’s dig around and see what we can discover about the nature of the sabbath, and the point Jesus might have been trying to assert.

It’s first important to remember that sabbath is of the very nature of God. God is a God who creates, redeems, and rests.

[On] the seventh day God finished the work that [God] had done, and [God] rested on the seventh day….[1]

Rest is of the nature of God, and we who are called to be participants of the divine nature[2] are called to a people of rest. At the same time, Isaiah reminds us that the sabbath is a day of joy and delight. [If] you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honourable…then you shall take delight in the Lord.[3] It is this same Lord, who Hosea reminds us, desires mercy and steadfast love, not in place of sacrifice, but before.

The picture which Jesus paints of the sabbath is not a day constrained by rules and regulations, such as my mother experienced, but a day of healing, wholeness, and liberation, a day of mercy, love, and delight, in which we discover again the very nature and being of this God, who is a God of rest.

We are commanded to rest on the sabbath then, not because we are tired and overworked, although we may be, but because in keeping sabbath we discover again who God is, and what it might mean for us to participate in God’s very nature, who is a God of mercy, joy, and rest.

Again, it is easy for us to vilify the Pharisees, but I don’t think we need to in order to celebrate the real gift that sabbath keeping can be for us in our relationship with God, which I think, is the point Jesus was trying to make.

[1] Genesis 2: 2

[2] 2 Peter 1: 4

[3] Isaiah 58: 13

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