The Sabbath Was Made For Humankind

Mark 2:23-3:6
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
3 Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. 2 Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. 3 Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

The Congregational Church of Easton – June 2, 2024
As our New Testament reading this Sunday said, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
The Sabbath is part of the weekend, right? In a culture shaped by a Monday to Friday work week, the two days Saturday and Sunday have become the “weekend.” Technically speaking Sunday is the first day of the week—not Monday. Saturday is the last day of the week—not Sunday. But that in not how most of us experience the rhythm of life. The notion of “weekend” is so powerful that the idea of Sunday beginning the new week is a foreign idea.
The fourth of the ten commandments says, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work.”
I don’t think that weekend is an improvement on the idea of Sabbath. What people do on weekends is work. Weekends aren’t all that restful – stocking up on groceries, cleaning the house, catching up on emails, for example. Weekends boil down to activities we engage in for ourselves, as distinct from those we engage in for our employment. Neither are very restful. The question I ask us as Christians is “how shall we live an abundant life: the model of Jesus or today’s culture of weekend?
The fourth commandment tells us to keep the Sabbath day holy. The gospels paint a picture of Jesus as a person who made Sabbath worship at synagogue his routine. The third chapter of Mark begins with, “again he (Jesus) entered the synagogue.” As the story unfolds, it is clear that he is there for Sabbath worship. Mark wants his hearers to know that this particular visit by Jesus to the synagogue at Capernaum is an instance of the settled routine of Jesus’ life.
Of course, Sabbath, for Jesus, fell on the day of the week we call Saturday—the last day of the Biblical week. The first Christians began to meet on Sundays—the first day of the week—because this was the day Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus said that Sabbath was made for humankind—for the benefit of human flourishing. In addition to worshipping people were supposed to rest, not work.
In His day all kinds of regulations had sprung up as to what constituted work. For example, threshing grain was considered work prohibited on Sabbath. So as the disciples walked along and took a stalk of grain in their hands and rubbed the chaff away to eat the grains, the Pharisees accused them of working. Healing the sick was the work of the physician. To heal on the Sabbath, as Jesus did, was a transgression in the eyes of the Pharisees who opposed Jesus. According to Jesus, Sabbath practices were never to prevent someone from relieving the suffering of another on that day.
Sabbath is for human flourishing.
Imbedded in this idea of Sabbath is a message to move away from the important things of life and to move toward what is essential. There are many important, high-priority things to do in life. Our work—the way we earn a living—is high-priority. The education of our children and their care and development high-priority. Also high-priority is paying attention to our health. The quality of our relationships needs our focus and best efforts. All of these and many others are important. And it is good for people to prioritize time for what is important.
But Sabbath is for the essential — drawing aside to meet with God. Worship roots our lives in the narrative God has for our lives. We come together to hear what God would say to us through scripture. We hear that God wants us to flourish.
When we come to church, we bring with us the concerns and cares typical of life — things that may have blindsided us or sent us reeling. Perhaps a difficult diagnosis of a disease or an economic reversal. We need to hear that our sufferings are not in vain, and that God can work the good he has in mind for us even in the midst of these things.
So, the first essential of Sabbath is worshipping God.
The second essential of Sabbath is rest — rest from our work. To observe Sabbath means to be deliberate about rest from our work.
The satirical website, The Onion, ran a fictitious story titled “Man On Cusp Of Having Fun Suddenly Remembers Every Single One Of His Responsibilities.” The story reads:
“Marshall came tantalizingly close to kicking back and having a good time at a friend’s barbeque. While he chatted with friends over a relaxed outdoor meal, he was seconds away from letting go and enjoying himself, when he was suddenly crushed by the full weight of work emails that still needed to be dealt with….
It isn’t easy to set aside the responsibilities of work. They have a way of creeping back into our consciousness. In contrast, our Lord had plenty of demands made on His time, but he always kept the Sabbath as a time for rest. The incident of the disciples snacking on grain is a picture of Jesus enjoying a Sabbath afternoon with his disciples. Maybe they were taking a walk to the seaside.
Similarly, religious Jews keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. Although they go to the synagogue on the Sabbath, the home functions as the primary place for Sabbath observance. Families walk to the synagogue on Friday to pray the evening prayers within the congregation. Returning home, they eat a large meal which was prepared prior to the start of the Sabbath. The meal was prepared ahead of time so they wouldn’t have to work on the Sabbath. On the Sabbath itself there are family gatherings, prayer, study, and song.
So, what about you? Are you going to rest when you get home from church today, or are you going to catch up on something that needs to be done? What about me? Susie and I haven’t finished planting our vegetable garden. Maybe we’ll decide that gardening is a form of rest, remembering that Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath
Let us pray. Holy One, we thank you for providing us this opportunity to worship on the Sabbath. May we also find the rest of today delightfully restful. Amen.