Keeping Sabbath: Sabbath "Doing"
23 One sabbath he was going through the cornfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. 24The Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?’ 25And he said to them, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? 26He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.’ 27Then he said to them, ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; 28so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.’
The Pharisees in Jesus’s day, these strict keepers of the law, had some 39 Sabbath prohibitions—39 things you couldn’t do on the Sabbath which, then and now in the Jewish tradition, is sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday. You weren’t allowed to plant or harvest, for example. And then they had some very precise rules like:
On the Sabbath you could not tie or untie a knot;
or sew more than one stitch;
or write more than one letter;
or walk more that 1,999 paces (which is about 800 mtrs.)
Imagine having to count your steps without a pedometer! I’d think I’d lose count after a while—I wouldn’t be able to count and talk at the same time.
So, as Jesus and his disciples walk through grain fields in this story in Mark, they break at least two Sabbath “no-no’s”—they harvest grain by picking off some wheat kernels to eat because they’re hungry. And they likely walk more than the allotted number of steps for the day.
The Pharisees, Sabbath legalists that they are, combined with the fact most of them don’t like Jesus, are quick to point out the error in his disciples’ ways:
“Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
Jesus responds in the way he often did—he tells a story and he begins the story in a needling way.
“Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food?”
The Pharisees were the legal experts of their day and they would have been very much aware of this David story. They routinely memorized large portions if not all of what we call today the Old Testament. So, of course they were familiar with this story—they knew it by heart.
So, when Jesus says, “Have you never read what David did …” He knows they’ve read this story and know it well. He’s poking them a bit—putting them on the defensive.
The story, found in 1 Samuel, goes like this. David is not yet the crowned King—Saul is still the king of Israel but David has been chosen to replace him as king which doesn’t bless Saul who is very much interested in finding David and killing him. David and his men flee for their lives, and after a while, they get hungry. So, David enters a town and goes to the local priest looking for food. The only food he has is the holy bread—the bread kept on the altar of the tabernacle which only the priests were allowed to eat.
But given the hunger of his men, David asks that he might have this bread for them. The priest does what David asks—and turns over the holy bread to him.
Understand a couple of things here.
David technically breaks the law. It wasn’t lawful for anyone to eat that bread but the priests. But David was willing to do the sensible thing to feed his men.
Also understand David is the main character in this story—the great David—who would become the greatest King in Israel’s history and one of, if not the most revered figures of Jewish history.
So, Jesus is saying to these uptight Pharisees:
“Hey if David, the greatest King of Israel, was willing to bend the rules when his men were hungry, I’m not going to get uptight about my disciples picking a few kernels of wheat when they’re hungry.”
He finishes the story with the famous line which guides us to this day in keeping Sabbath:
“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath, so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath—not the other way around. If Jesus isn’t overly uptight about what can or can’t be done on a Sabbath, neither should we.
Last week I talked about Sabbath ceasing … ceasing from: work … and worrying… and being a consumer… and from social media one day in seven.
We cease from those kinds of things to do other things. What kind of things? Here’s a list of Sabbath “doings.”
I would hope this Sabbath “doing” would be welcome by us all. This is a day to slow down. Do things like …
take a nap;
read a book;
go on a leisurely walk;
eat a favorite food;
play a game with the kids or grandkids;
call an old friend you haven’t talked to for a while;
or sit in the sun on the front porch or back deck.
While these kinds of activities are likely welcome it’s hard to do them because we’re so wired to be productive. It’s going to take practice to engage in a “guilt-free” nap or sit and enjoy the quiet on the deck. Give it time. It gets easier the more you practice the weekly rhythm of keeping Sabbath.
By the way, some of us may find it difficult to be still and quiet on a Sabbath day because when we stop for very long we’re afraid of what we’re going to find. As long as we’re busy 24/7 we think we can avoid what’s going on deep inside of us. Because when we stop, maybe we’re going to have to face some grief, or deal with some heartache, or recall a regrettable mistake we’ve made, or come to grips with how empty we are inside. To avoid all of that, we just go, go, go and never stop.
But friends, God normally meets us in the quiet places. If you fear the stillness, trust that the loving God will meet you there with what you need.
A second Sabbath “doing” is …
- Do what brings you joy
The Sabbath day is a time for you to engage in whatever it is what you always wish you had time to do but never get around to doing.
What brings you joy? What replenishes your spirit?
I’m sure you’ve had this experience, too. You have a meeting scheduled or an appointment, but you learn at the last minute it’s been canceled. All of a sudden, you have all of this extra time in your day. What a gift!
Or how about a snow day. Even those of us who haven’t been in school for decades can remember the joy of learning that school was canceled because of an overnight snowfall. What a gift!
Whether it’s a canceled appointment or a snow day, we all know the gift of receiving time we didn’t expect.
The weekly Sabbath can become a gift like that … it’s extra time in your weekly rhythm for you to use for what brings you joy.
If you can’t think of something that brings you joy, then maybe it’s time you learn to do something you’ve always wanted to learn to do. For years I said to myself, “Someday I’m going to learn to make pie crust and then I can make some of my Mom’s favorite pie recipes.” I used Sabbath time to learn how to do just that—let me tell you, taking a warm pie out of the oven brings me joy, not to mention, I like to eat and share them, too.
Dare to let yourself replenish you spirit by doing something that brings you joy, one day in seven.
Another Sabbath “doing” is …
- Feed your soul
Doing something that brings you joy will certainly feed your soul but what I’m after here is: Somehow nurture your relationship with God.
For those of who keep Sabbath on a Sunday, that’s easily done by being in worship with God’s people. If your Sabbath is another day of the week, maybe that means being still in prayer, or meditating on Scripture, or reading a few pages of a book that invites you to deeper faith, or taking a leisurely walk to have conversation with God.
Do something that feeds your soul, nurtures your relationship with God.