JUNE 5, 2007:HEBREWS 6:10-20; MARK 2:23-28

 

THE SABBATH WAS MADE FOR MAN, NOT MAN FOR THE SABBATH. Mark inserts these words in the account of our Lord=s encounter with the Pharisees who objected to the actions of his disciples as a violation of the Sabbath observance. Saints Luke and Matthew do not include this statement in their accounts of the same event, though like Mark they make it clear that our Lord spoke in defense of his apostles who violated the letter of the law of the Sabbath as it was interpreted by Jewish authorities. In all three Synoptic Gospels, however, Jesus makes the same final assertion that is so radical in its implications as much today as when he first proclaimed it: AThe Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.@ This claim that Jesus asserts is equivalent to averring that he possesses divine power and authority. For the Sabbath observance was viewed by the Pharisees as acknowledging God as creator of the visible world, human beings included. Their prescriptions governing those activities which are permitted and which are forbidden were treated as absolutes precisely in recognition of the absolute authority of God. To violate them is to deny God=s holiness; to claim authority over the Sabbath is to arrogate to oneself what belongs to God alone. Jesus makes precisely this claim, as I see it, and all three Evangelists consider it important enough to make it the closing lesson to be drawn from this encounter.

 

The words that St. Mark adds to this account THE SABBATH WAS MADE FOR MAN, NOT MAN FOR THE SABBATH are most apt in that they give expression to our Lord=s humane concerns that he presents here as being also the concern of God in prescribing the observance of a weekly day of rest. His primary intent is, to be sure, that the people regularly recognize his holiness but that they do so in a manner that gives refreshment to their whole person, body and soul. The purpose of the detailed legislation as stated in the Book of Deuteronomy (5:12) is explicitly twofold, stating that A the seventh day is a Sabbath for the Lord your God@, while adding that Ayour servant shall rest as you do.@ Relief from the daily round of labor with its material concerns then intends not only to give glory and worship to the Creator but to do so precisely by providing for the physical and spiritual welfare of people. The Pharisees had emphasized the holiness of God indeed but in a manner that in practice burdened the individual by excessively detailed proscriptions. Jesus, according to Mark, while not questioning the divine purpose and rights, gives anew, fresh emphasis to the human aspect of this observance. In taking this course our Lord set himself in opposition to current authority by differing radically from the prevailing Jewish views of law. St. John=s Gospel also shows the same conflict. We read there that when Jesus put clay moistened with his spittle on the eyes of blind man and healed him on the Sabbath AThen some of the Pharisees said, >This man cannot be from God: he does not keep the Sabbath.=@ (9:15)

 

But God did not define in such elaborate detail what this observance required; it was the traditions of men that our Lord put aside in favor of a higher principle, that of love which assured a more elevated equity than strict legal provisions make possible.

 

In his manner of interpreting the application of divine law with his stress on the welfare of the individual person Jesus opened a way that led to a fresh approach to life that had not been realized prior to his teaching. His interpretation of God=s law called for a reverence for the human person as essential for the right relation to God. St. Irenaeus was to give a striking formulation to this principle when he wrote, about a century and a half later that: Athe living man is the glory of God@ and he goes on to add that the life of man consists in beholding God. (Adv. Haer.IV.7.6,7)

Perhaps the lesson for us today that this teaching of our Lord brings home is that rightly to live according to the express will of God requires a discernment that is possible only for those who have learned to love. It is not enough to be careful in observance of duty and the rules of society and the Church, though such conscientious behavior is essential, as Jesus points out in his Sermon on the Mount. But such dutifulness and dedication can serve their purpose adequately only when   they are carried into practice with love from the heart. To grow in love of the Lord is the fruit of contemplative prayer: for truly to know and encounter him as we do when we enter the heart with faith in his presence, is to grow in love of him. Ultimately it is love which give light to the eyes of the spirit and allows us to discern what is true, noble and pleasing to God. May this Eucharist be for each of us here a light to eye of our spirit and a joy to the heart.+    

 Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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