The Essence of the Sabbath

Matthew 12: 1-8
Ex 11:10—12:14 / Psa 116

For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.
(Matthew 12: 8)

God asks but little of our time
For us to honor Him at Mass;
So let us leave all cares behind
To worship ere this week will pass

At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat. But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath.” But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone? Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent? But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire compassion and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:1-8)

Reflection

To counter the Pharisees’ charge that His disciples were doing work on the Sabbath by picking and threshing grain to eat, Jesus cited 1 Samuel 21:7, which narrated the story of David and his men who in their hunger, went to the temple of God, and there asked Abimelech the high priest to give them the consecrated bread, which by law could only be eaten by the priests. He also cited the same temple priests who were tasked to prepare the sacrifices being offered during the Sabbath, but were not breaking it. Clearly, God did not intend the Sabbath to be a burden to man, but to be a day of rest. And easing one’s hunger by picking grains to eat could hardly be regarded as work. Besides, human need must take precedence over the mere interpretation of the law of the Sabbath. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that the spirit of the Sabbath was more important than the mere interpretation of its law. He told them that God’s mercy superseded their bureaucratic man-made laws.

For most Christians and all Catholics, we observe the third commandment of God on Sunday, when we abstain from all kinds of work. Six days a week we spend in pursuit of money or other temporal concerns, and we only give honor to the Source of all our blessings one hour of our day of rest by going to holy Mass to adore and receive Him in the Holy Eucharist. How would you feel if your children and grandchildren come to visit you for only one hour every week? And yet many Catholics can still afford to skip that one hour of obligation when “something important” has to be attended to.

Only one thing can excuse us from the observance of our Sunday obligation, and that is a work of mercy. Jesus said, “I desire compassion and not sacrifice.” But even doctors and nurses who look after the sick on Sundays must find time on this special day to rest in the Lord and meditate on HIS WORKS OF MERCY. An hour is not too much to ask.

Sunday is our day of rest when we honor our God, Who in the book of Genesis, rested on the seventh day to make it holy. It is the day when we unload all our concerns and simply reflect on God’s goodness in our life. It is a short respite when we can celebrate the freedom and salvation that Jesus had won for us. St. Paul said, “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Gal.5:1). It is a time set aside by the Lord for us to recharge our batteries, and be ready again for the challenges of another week. Let us prepare to spend our Sabbath the way God wants it to be.

May we honor Your Sabbath, Lord, by adoring You accordingly, practicing acts of kindness and compassion on this special day. Amen.

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