Thursday in the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5

The Purpose of the Sabbath

Today’s passage of Scripture specifically concerns what we discussed Tuesday: Sabbath observance.  As you well know, the Fourth Commandment of the Ten says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8).  The passage goes on to say that no work was to be done on that day by any member of the family, not even the sojourner within the gates.  The reason given is the example and principle set by God Himself who created the world and then rested on the seventh day.  The Church, no doubt at the direction of the apostles, who were directed by the Lord, changed the day from the seventh to the first, as that was the day our Lord rose from the dead (Matthew 28:1; 1 Corinthians 16:2).

According to the account before us, the disciples of Jesus, passing by a field, began to pluck the heads of grain to eat.  The Pharisees, who seem to be omnipresent in the gospels, condemned this behavior as unlawful because they were “working” on the Sabbath day.  There was no law that said one could not pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath; this was simply a rabbinic interpretation – the tradition of the elders.  Jesus reminds them of the account of David (1 Samuel 21:1-6) who ate the “bread of the presence” from the very tabernacle itself which was only for the priests to eat.  He also reminded them that priests work on the Sabbath day, if only out of necessity to fulfill their divine service.  So Jesus admonishes them for condemning the guiltless and forgetting mercy – again.

But the main point of the passage is when Jesus tells the Pharisees that “something greater than the temple is here,” and “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”  Here again, Jesus is not ashamed to proclaim who he is and the authority he has.  As the Lord, he is the One who may pronounce the authoritative interpretation of the Law.  Second, Jesus tells them that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  The Sabbath is a gift God gave to man that he may: 1) find himself again after a week of toil by presenting himself before the Lord to worship: “God has made us for Himself and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him” (St. Augustine, Confessions 1); and, 2) that he may rest from labors.  This is a commandment that Christians have all but deleted.  They think that Jesus abolished it, or at least live as if they think that way.  Jesus removed the rabbinic misinterpretations of it.  We are still commanded to keep the day holy.  This first and foremost involves worship with God’s people at church and spending the day with thoughts of Him.

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