One Sabbath, as Jesus was going through the wheat fields, his disciples were picking the heads of wheat, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. Some Pharisees said, “Why are you breaking the Sabbath law?”
Jesus replied, “Haven’t you read what David and his companions did when they were hungry? He broke the Law by going into God’s house and eating the bread of the presence, which only the priests can eat. He also gave some of the bread to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Human One[a] is Lord of the Sabbath.”
On another Sabbath, Jesus entered a synagogue to teach. A man was there whose right hand was withered. The legal experts and the Pharisees were watching him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. They were looking for a reason to bring charges against him. Jesus knew their thoughts, so he said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” He got up and stood there. Jesus said to the legal experts and Pharisees, “Here’s a question for you: Is it legal on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?” Looking around at them all, he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he did and his hand was made healthy. They were furious and began talking with each other about what to do to Jesus.
During that time, Jesus went out to the mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night long. At daybreak, he called together his disciples. He chose twelve of them whom he called apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter; his brother Andrew; James; John; Philip; Bartholomew; Matthew; Thomas; James the son of Alphaeus; Simon, who was called a zealot; Judas the son of James; and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor.
As a child, growing up in Southeastern Georgia, there wasn’t much open on a Sunday afternoon; maybe a few gas stations, and then the grocer across the street who would open up for a few hours after services to let the church folks come and grab anything they had forgotten for their Sunday afternoon suppers. It wasn’t meant to be an actual shopping day.
Most Sundays, my mother was the woman who had a cart full of groceries; she hadn’t forgotten any Sunday supper supplies; she was doing her grocery shopping for Sunday supper and for all the meals for the week ahead. Both of my parents, especially my mom, worked long hours during the week, and Saturdays were for softball games, birthday parties, lawn-moving, house cleaning, laundry, starting homework, the occasional nap, and anything else that needed doing. Sundays were for church, more homework, shopping, Sunday supper, and preparing for the week ahead.
Unlike so many other church members in our town, my parents did not observe the practice of no shopping on the assigned Sabbath day because there were important things they needed to do. They had made priorities for our family, and not shopping or not causing others to work on Sundays, was not a priority. They were part of a working-class world where there were few breaks in life. There were braces and flute lessons to pay for, there were bosses and deadlines to answer to, and there were children to raise and extended family who lived out of state to care for. The Sabbath my parents practiced did not fit the mold that our church and our community had expected us to fit into. Their Sabbath looked more like preparation.
Sabbath is not a new concept in the New Testament, it was a regular practice. We find the first day of rest in Genesis. God worked and worked, creating the whole of creation, and then God rested. Then, in Exodus, we find the practice of the Sabbath comes in the form of a commandment from God: Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. Six days you may work and do all your tasks, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. Do not do any work on it – not you, your sons or daughters, your male or female servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
When Jesus entered into the temple, he knew he was already being set up by those in power. They had already caught him doing what was considered “work” on a Sabbath day in the wheat field. And he reminded them that even David broke the rules sometimes, like eating the bread that was meant only for the priests. So, these priests and legal experts, had probably been imagining how they could trap Jesus for a while.
Jesus is probably the best example of a radical rabble-rouser that we have. He wasn’t winning over the Jewish priests with his acts of love, kindness, mercy, with his teachings, or with his tiny micro-defiances to the laws of his time. Jesus knew that being a radical rabble-rouser put him in the line of sight of those who didn’t care for him and how he challenged the status quo, and in turn, challenged their authority.
Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word, Shabbath, meaning “rest.” Rest from work. The work of our jobs and of our daily lives. It is to set aside a time for God and for ourselves to rejuvenate from the toil we put our bodies and minds through. Shabbath means to cease working. Shabbath, however, does not mean to cease living in the world. It does not mean that we stop from God’s work. Because God’s work is never done.
God’s work is not our work. Our work has to do with meetings, making deadlines, making profits. God’s work is our responsibility; it is loving our neighbor. Work often comes with responsibility, but responsibility does not have to come with work. It’s not our work to do God’s work, but out responsibility. And as people who profess to follow the triune God, our responsibility that comes along with that is to enact that love every moment of our waking being. And we cannot give that up, even on our day of rest.
In the last few days, as I am sure you are all aware of; some decrees were made by those in power in our country, and people have begun openly responding in very public ways. I too publicly responded. I used social media like Twitter and Facebook to voice my own anger for the lack of justice and neighborly love being shown to God’s creation in the name of hatred masked as safety measures for the people of our country. My spouse went and voiced support for those who were being detained at Chicago’s O’Hare airport because they held citizenship in particular countries. They chanted things like, “let them in,” and “this is what democracy looks like.” I wish I could have been there as well to voice my own support in person. Because I believe Jesus would have been right there in that crowd shouting “let them in!” Even on the Sabbath. I don’t think I need to remind anyone that our God calls us to welcome and love the foreigner.
But, just because you are having a day of rest, whether it be Saturday or Sunday of our calendar, or any other day of the week, God’s work, our responsibility, is that we actively love our neighbor at all times. It is never-ending. That is the lens with which we hear this passage.
My mother’s Sabbath was to prepare the rest of us so we could do our work each week. Her preparation is like Jesus and his disciples eating the wheat on the Sabbath. Eating is an essential part of life, of preparation, so you are able to work and fulfill your responsibilities. For my mother, rest resembled cleaning house, feeding her family, spending time with her children. Her rest didn’t always look like the rest that our church called for.
Preparation as rest is essential to enact God’s love. I’m sure you’ve heard someone say before, “you can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself first.” So, like Jesus and the disciples, you must prepare your body for what comes next. You must eat, rejuvenate, get your house in order, so that you can go out and do the work that you are responsible for as Christians. We are responsible because it comes with the faith we proclaim. It isn’t a tit for tat, it’s a core part of our religion.
After the wheat field incident, Jesus then openly defies those in power and heals a man in the temple on the day of rest. Jesus put his neighbor before himself as the people with the power to condemn him watch. He knew the priests were out to get him and yet he still acted. He knew that he could put himself in harm’s way by healing this man’s hand. He had prepared himself for this active loving of his neighbor.
That was Jesus’ job in this story: to love his neighbor by healing him, and his job is our responsibility. And loving our neighbor means that we prepare, our whole bodies and voices, and then we cry out for justice, we stand up for those who are being oppressed. We seek to bring wholeness to those who can’t bring it to themselves. Sometimes loving your neighbor means protesting at an airport terminal because they are being treated differently. Sometimes it means helping to mow your neighbor’s lawn. Sometimes it means napping or doing laundry, or preparing meals, but it always means loving your neighbor with your whole body, and soul, and mind. Because to show love to your neighbor is to show love to God.
So, friends, I urge you, go show love for your neighbor because in your resting, that is your responsibility, not your job. Prepare yourselves for the responsibility of claiming Christianity as the core of who you are and then claim it. In whatever ways you are able, break the Sabbath mold that our society has created and put your neighbor first, especially on the Sabbath, even if it means you might become a rabble-rouser just like Jesus.
Preached on January 19, 2017 at Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church in Northglenn, Colorado.