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In yesterday’s Gospel passage, Mark 2:23-28, the Pharisees blow a gasket over Jesus and his disciples shucking and eating grain on the Sabbath. Jesus infuriated them even more when He alluded to himself as the Son of Man being lord over the Sabbath and that, “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Jesus heals the man with the withered hand.

Then, in today’s Gospel, Mark 3:1-6, the Pharisees totally lose it when he defies their authority by restoring a man’s withered hand to normal on the Sabbath, and in the temple nonetheless!  The shame of it all!  Jesus thumbed His nose at their law by showing that if He could do good for someone, why wait until tomorrow when he could do it today.  To the Pharisees, this was the last straw and they went about planning to put Him to death. 

In meditating on these passages, I thought about how the Pharisees, for generations, had added new laws (far in excess of the Ten Commandments) that acted to the detriment of the people and severely restricted their freedom of life.  Jesus, in His response, clearly made known that no man-made law could supersede or void the respect for the dignity God has for His creation – man.  Man’s need for sustenance and physical health supersedes the law of not working on the Sabbath.  Jesus made these allowances, but He never opened the door for totally disregarding the Sabbath.

The religious precepts of that time seem crazy to us now.  To us who love our freedom and ability to do whatever we want, whenever we want, those laws seem to be at the extreme end of the rigidity spectrum.  But, then I thought about the norms of society today, at what is and isn’t acceptable, and I see where we have slid to the opposite end of that scale.

First, there don’t appear to be any rules about conduct on the Sabbath.  Much of society today does not look to God as One to be worshiped, and, even for those who do, many see no reason to respect the Third Commandment of remembering to “keep Holy the Sabbath Day.” There are simply more important things to do whether they are necessary or not. 

Even within our Church we take exceptions.  Most Catholic schools, for example, pull out the stops to allow sports competition to be conducted on Sundays.  Many faithful see this as an “excused absence note” to not attend mass.  The wrong message is being sent.

But, surely, there ought to be a middle ground.  What is it that God wants from us in honoring the Sabbath?

Let’s begin with what He did on the Sabbath.  He rested after a hard week of work.  He took a break.  And he delighted in His creation, all that he had accomplished.  He set the example for us to follow.  But, what does this mean to us?

The Sabbath is meant to be a day of rest for us, a day to lighten our load.  Jesus said to us, “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”  (Matthew 11:28).  The things that burden us are more than our work, they include our anxieties, the weight of our sins and inordinate attachments that act to keep us distant from Him.  It’s a day on which we can look back over the week and evaluate our work; consider whether or not we gave it our best shot; and identify our vices and decide how we can replace them with virtues that will lead us to holiness.

The Sabbath gives us a chance to appreciate all that is good in our lives: the good that we do, the good that is in our families, and in our neighbors. It’s a chance for us to rest knowing that God loves us for who we are, not for what we do.  Even when we know we have fallen short, we can rest in knowing that He still loves us.

Sabbath rest does not mean we should laze around and do nothing.  We should use it to respect the dignity of other people.  It gives us the opportunity to think about, care about, and rest in the love of our family, friends and neighbors.  Jesus didn’t think twice about curing someone on the Sabbath.  We shouldn’t think twice about doing what it takes to improve relationships with others, bring them happiness, and love them the way they deserve and need to be loved.  They, too, need to know they are loved not for what they do but for who they are.

Spiritually, it’s the day above all other days in which we live out the first Commandment – to worship the Lord our God – by going to mass.  There, we can rest and find solace in recognizing all that God has done for us, primarily in the saving Grace of His death and resurrection.  Because of this, we ought to remember that life is good, and the next life will be very good!  

And, finally, we need to rest and delight in the goodness and beauty of God’s creation:  nature; the giftedness, uniqueness, and beauty of others; and edifying art, music and literature created by those whom He gifted.

We humans need all these things.  We need to be renewed every seven days.  In His infinite wisdom, God knew that we would need a day to regain our strength so that we could do our best in the next seven days. 

He made the Sabbath for us and not the other way around.

“Almighty God, thank You for creating me.  Thank You for creating everyone for me to love and through whom You channel Your love to me.  Thank You for the ability to work, to provide for my family, and to help others in need.  And thank You for Your omniscience knowing that I would need a day to rest and rejuvenate so that I can keep on working in Your Kingdom.  Amen.”

(The Sabbath Was Made For Man was first published on the blog Reflections of a Lay Catholic)

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