4. Jesus and His Affirmation of The Sabbath
Matthew 11: 25 to 12: 14
Jesus was a devout practicing Jew for the whole of his life on earth. Among the many things Jesus loved about his spiritual heritage as a Jew, there is one blessing he treasured above all others. Nothing surpassed its importance for him. In it he saw the embodiment of all he taught.
He upheld it and focused on it probably more than any other aspect of his faith.
We are talking about the Sabbath. It is a pity that so many Christian writers seem to interpret his relationship with the Sabbath in a negative way. Unless we abandon such bias and look carefully at how it figures in his teaching, we could miss the valuable revelation he offers to those prepared to listen honestly and openly to him.
Matthew 11: 25 and 26 — Jesus' Prayer
At that time Jesus said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure."
Jesus has experienced increasingly, rejection by the authorities who saw themselves as the fount of wisdom on the Holy Scriptures. His message in the main, has been taken to heart by a few disciples drawn from the peasant and working classes.
So, we open with a valuable glimpse of Jesus at prayer — Verse 25 — 26. In it he affirms God's choice to reveal spiritual truth to "little children."
He is not referring to young — old. Rather to those who think they know enough and those who see themselves always benefiting from more understanding.
Verse 27 — Jesus' First Declaration
"All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him"
(Sense the cosmic vastness)
Here Jesus reveals his unity with the Father. There are no secrets between them. The Father has handed all gifts to his Son to dispense.
Verses 28 — 30 — Jesus' Second Declaration
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in Heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
Here Jesus openly repeats the promise of God to his disciple Moses. (Exodus 33: 14). Strap yourself to the Living Word, says our Lord; bind yourself to me. Enrol as my disciples. Learn from me as Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 55: 2 and 3).
Then, as Jeremiah prophesied, you will find rest for your soul. (Jeremiah 6: 16)
Here Jesus is clearly, and forthrightly claiming his full role as dispenser of God's gifts of love and mercy.
In Psalm 62 we read
"In God alone is my soul at rest."
In our passage Jesus is claiming that for his disciples,
"In me alone is your soul at rest"
Make no mistake about it — Jesus' listeners were well aware of all that this bold statement about him giving them "rest" implied.
Matthew 12: 1 — 8 — Jesus' Third Declaration
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath".
He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?
He entered the House of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread-which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, "I desire mercy not sacrifice", you would not have condemned the innocent.
So, let's check that we have got the full impact of this event.
One Sabbath day, when Jesus was teaching, no one invited him or his friends to a Sabbath meal. So they went for a walk through a cornfield. The disciples were hungry and picked some corn. Jesus didn't but the disciples did. Some authorities, who quoted Scripture endlessly but never actually listened to what it said, protested:
"That is against the Torah !" (Law)
Jesus replies, in effect, "Well, if that's what you think, then you haven't read the Torah properly! If you had, you would know that God wants to be known above all else, as the one who dispenses Mercy!"
Having sorted out his opponents on this matter, Jesus then goes on in verse 8 to make a most amazing statement. He declares, in effect, "I am Lord of the Sabbath". In other words,
Matthew 12: 9 — 13 — Jesus' Fourth Declaration
But the story is unfinished. They stop their lunch and go into the local synagogue where Jesus is met by a man with a shrivelled hand. He heals it amidst cold, merciless debate.
Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue and a man with a shrivelled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is is lawful to heal on the Sabbath? He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."
Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
In the mind of our Lord, it is indeed Torah, God's holy will, to do good, to reveal God's mercy and love, and to restore life on the Sabbath. He therefore boldly declared:
"It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath".
Many Christians will be more accustomed to a negative interpretation of our Lord's claim to be "Lord of the Sabbath". Many have grown up thinking that by these words he annulled the Sabbath, or claimed that he superseded it. A careful examination of the texts in the light of modern studies shows in fact a beautiful continuity of God's creation blessing to us through him and his ministry. So let us share his great love of the Sabbath rest and receive the blessing he has been commissioned to dispense.
What is the Connection with Contemplative Meditation Prayer?
It is no surprise that restoring the true meaning of Sabbath — entering into God's rest — was central in all Jesus' teaching. From the beginning of time, and in Jesus' time, and in ours:
rest for the body,
relaxation for the mind
remain critically essential if we are to grow to our full potential. Rest is not about inaction — It is about growth — growth to wholeness, growth in holiness.
No wonder in the "Law of Moses", God commands:
"Remember the Sabbath keep it holy!".
i.e. DO NOT LET IT SLIP!
In the Genesis account Man and Woman were created on the Sixth day.
As the sun set on that day, there began the 7th day — the very first Sabbath which God created by resting.
(Resting — Hebrew — "catching breath")
So we find God and humanity sharing rest, breath, and all creation together.
In the Biblical account this all happened long before Judaism came into being.
So Sabbath rest was given to all humanity not just to Judaism.
Jesus went to great lengths to show that he came to restore and fulfill; not to destroy, and not do away with. The walk through the cornfields was a turning point in Jesus' teaching. Notice he didn't pick corn and eat. But he allowed his disciples to. Thus he made it clear in the future, the Church would have to move beyond Jewish cultural restrictions in order to offer the Sabbath's blessings to the world.
All the prophecy and blessings associated with the Sabbath throughout the O.T are available to us if we will but listen to Jesus as he repeats God's constant call: "Come to me and I will give you rest." "Come to me," says Jesus, "and I will give you God's promised rest — I will renew your breath — I will give you new breath, new life".
Contemplative Meditation is Sabbath time with the Lord in which we pause and remain still in His loving presence. There we are refreshed and restored to the image of God, as Jesus keeps his promise to us—"You will find rest for your souls".
Copyright © 2000 Community of Affirmation