Monday 22 January 2024

Bible Book:
Luke

Then Jesus said to them, 'I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?' (v. 9)

Luke 6:1-11 Monday 22 January 2024

Psalm 150

Background

Perhaps what strikes us first about the two stories from this passage from Luke (which are also recorded in Mark and Matthew's Gospels), is the significance of 'the Sabbath'. In the UK today, many people would probably be unclear what the word meant, let alone consider it something important. At the same time, most – though not all – Christians would be unlikely to talk about 'the Sabbath', although they would probably understand it to have a connection to Sunday.

However, for Jesus, his disciples and the Pharisees alike, there is a clear understanding that the Sabbath is important, and very much a part of life. They all knew and took seriously the 4th commandment (Exodus 20:8-11, Deuteronomy 5:6-21). The commandment asserts that the Sabbath, the seventh day, is holy, and that nobody should work on it. Therefore, according to the Pharisees, Jesus’ disciples should not pick heads of grain on the Sabbath, and Jesus should not heal a man with a 'shrivelled' hand.

These stories cast the Pharisees in the role in which we are accustomed to seeing them in the gospels – full of excessive religiosity and inadequately concerned with love and compassion. Hence Jesus challenges them: which is lawful on the Sabbath, to do good or to do evil? (v. 9). Ironically perhaps, excessive religiosity (or similar), and a lack of love and compassion, are very much charges contemporary critics of Christians are likely to articulate.

But what of the Sabbath itself? All would presumably agree that it acceptable to do good on the Sabbath, but what else is there to say? Depending on your age, you may remember a time when Sunday (the Sabbath) was very different from the other days of the week, most especially because nearly all shops were shut. Despite the considerable efforts of the 'Keep Sunday Special' campaign, shopping was enabled to become a legal, and indeed very popular activity on Sundays (and also on Boxing Day!).

Although clearly a simplification, the suggestion that shopping is the new religion does speak to the massive cultural change that has occurred over the last 50 years or so in society. Yet we read that Jesus did not dismiss the importance of the Sabbath, but rather clarified that it is a day to do good.

 

To Ponder:

  • Have Christians simply lost all sight of the 4th commandment, as if it can be completely ignored? Are there specific ways that Christians can do good on Sundays, over and above going to church?
  • In a society when there is an ever-increasing focus on and fascination with notions of identity, what actually is Christian identity? Is the decline of Sunday as a special day a sign of Christian failure? How could Christians make the Sabbath/Sunday a new source of positive identity and activity?
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