26 January 2021Luke 6: 1-11
Then he said to them, 'The Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.' (v. 5)
In the Bible reading today we hear about Jesus’s relationship with the discipline of observing the Sabbath (Saturday), which was a holy day regulated by the fourth commandment (Exodus 20.8-11; Deuteronomy 5.12-15). It demanded a complete lockdown when all work was forbidden, and it applied to everyone. (All that is, it seems, except for the leaders of the synagogue worship and teachers, who were either exempt, or their work did not count as 'real' work!)
Jesus breaches the Sabbath rule because he does not prohibit his disciples from plucking ripe heads of grain to assuage their hunger. (Jesus and his close followers were penniless vagabonds.) He justifies his behaviour by referring to when David and his companions were hungry and ate holy bread: see 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
Secondly Jesus heals a member of the synagogue community with a withered right hand – a disability that would have severely limited the man's capacity to earn a living or do domestic chores. Jesus justifies his behaviour by raising a question about the nature of morality.
The common thread here is this. If on a Sabbath there is an urgent claim on Jesus’s practical compassion, he cannot be neutral or turn aside. He must act to love his neighbour. Not to feed the hungry or to engage with a severely disadvantaged person would have been a choice for harm, not good; for a life-destroying attitude, not a life-saving one.
So by what authority did Jesus break the Sabbath rule? It hinges on the nature of God and the responsibility of godly people to act as God does. Does anyone seriously think God stops loving, providing and healing every seventh day? (See John 5.17.) Human moral obligation therefore cannot vary from day to day. Jesus acts as ‘Son of Man’ – as a person whom God intended every person to be, an agent and witness of the everlasting, faithful love of God. He represents the life of God in the world and as such is lord of the Sabbath. He was greater even than David in this regard.
- Do people in need and personal relationships in need of repair matter more than anything else, even attendance at public worship?
- If climate change is the greatest threat to human wellbeing, is there a case for every Saturday (Sabbath) being for Christians a 'creation day' when we do everything we can to reduce threats to nature and enhance enjoyment of the natural world? What might such a discipline entail for you?