Jesus would have known and practiced this prophecy of Isaiah – perhaps known it by heart – as Isaiah speaks about the sabbath day. “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.”
One way to “remember the holiness of the sabbath” is by what you don’t do: not working with your hands; not traveling about. As Isaiah says, “refraining from trampling the sabbath… not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs.” However sabbath-keeping is also about what you do practice: to abide, to pray, and to share meals with your family and community. But there’s more. Isaiah says, to actually do some very specific kind of work on the sabbath: “to offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.”
Jesus heard the prophet Isaiah in both of these ways: the holy sabbath being both about restoration of one’s own personal life, and a call to action on behalf of others in need so that they, too, can have a life. This active service in sabbath-keeping is something Jesus practiced on behalf of the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the outcast. And, as we know, it got him into a great deal of trouble because it appeared he was working on the sabbath. He was. He was working, in a principled way, so that others would have enough of a life to be able to practice the sabbath. Jesus could say, “blessed are the poor”… and “blessed are the hungry” because of the responsiveness of God’s people to the poor and suffering in need.[i] Jesus did not say, “cursed are the poor” and… “cursed are the hungry,” but rather, “blessed are the poor”… and “blessed are the hungry” because their needs were being addressed, and work was being done by the faithful… sometimes even on the sabbath.
[i] Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew 5:2-12 and Luke 6:20-26.
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