Honoring the Sabbath

Luke 6: 6-11
Col 1:24–2:3 / Ps 62:6-7,9

Is it lawful on the sabbath, to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?
(Luke 6:9)

Heal me, Lord Jesus of my doubt,
Give me the grace to understand
That until I learn to stretch out,
My faith is like a withered hand.

The Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) all relate the same incidents about Jesus debating with the Pharisees on the Sabbath while walking through a field of grain, and then Jesus healing a man with a withered hand. Luke only differed with the other two by saying the healing happened “on another sabbath”. But all of the Gospel writers, including John’s Gospel, depict the narrow-minded view of the Jews regarding the Sabbath practice, and Jesus’ efforts (at the risk of His own life) to enlighten them about the true intent of God in creating the Sabbath. Jesus showed the pharisees that all their legalism in observing the Sabbath restricted even the most basic of human activities, like getting a sheep out of a pit on the Sabbath. He asked them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath?” He declared that in fact the Sabbath was the best day in which good should be done, and we read about the many times He healed and expelled evil spirits on this holy day.

Reflection

The pharisees, for all their obsession with the law had confused legality with morality. Jesus had consistently shown them that they were wrong. Ignoring those in need of medical help for the sake of “keeping the sabbath holy” is morally wrong. What may seem legal is not necessarily moral, and vice versa. Abortion may be legal in some countries like the United States, but our Church teaches us that it can never be morally right. Meeting for worship may be illegal in countries like China or Saudi Arabia, but they will always be considered morally good in any Christian country. In fact, in many cases, legality and morality are even at odds. Many judges and lawyers uphold the law for the wrong reasons, while many heroes and martyrs, like Ninoy Aquino, Evelio Javier, and John the Baptist gave up their lives for the sake of justice.

Jesus performed many of His healings on the Sabbath to show the Jews and future generations of Christians that the Sabbath is made more holy by liberating those who are in bondage with sickness or evil spirits on the Sabbath. In the process, He also freed His followers from the bondage of Old Covenant customs and rituals, which the Pharisees and Jewish leaders had crafted to burden the people.

Jesus was the fulfillment of the Sabbath, and still is our Sabbath, because it is only in Jesus that we find true rest. Whenever we fail to “keep holy the Sabbath day” (going to Sunday mass) for some ‘legal’ reason, we are missing not only the essence of this ‘law’, but our Lord Jesus Himself. And perhaps that may be the reason why we are still in bondage.

Your laws, Lord, are good, wholesome, and a delight to obey. I will always strive to learn them, understand them, and obey them as I believe the psalmist who said, ‘How blessed are those whose way is blameless, Who walk in the law of the Lord.’ (Ps. 119:1) Amen.

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