Uniform 01.05.2014: Peace on the Sabbath

Luke 6:1-11

When I imagine the disciples walking through the grainfields on the Sabbath, I hear Kyle Matthews’ song, “Walking on a Sunday Morning”:

But this day is just a little brighter

We sing and laugh

And somehow I get a little distance

From the week I’ve had

It’s nice to find some peace and quiet

Take time to think

My footsteps fall a little lighter

Walking on Sunday morning

After a week of ministering alongside Jesus, the Sabbath offers the disciples some distance from the concerns of their work. As they travel together, they are able to enjoy one another’s company in a way that is not possible while they are in the thick of supporting Jesus’ teaching and healing. They get some physical distance from the people they serve, and they are given space to reflect on the significance of their service. I imagine some of the disciples walking in groups of three or four, talking and laughing about their shared experiences, while others walk alone, taking advantage of a quiet moment to themselves.

This image of the disciples strolling through the grainfields resonates with my idea of Sabbath rest: good company, natural setting, and time to think about God’s presence in the world. Any day that includes these things allows me to feel that I am upholding God’s command to rest (Ex 20:8-11).

But the peace of the disciples’ Sabbath ends when the Pharisees who are traveling with them notice that they “plucked some heads of grain, rubbed them in their hands, and ate them” (v. 1). Their time to rest at the end of their workweek becomes a debate about Sabbath laws when the Pharisees accuse them of breaking those laws.

Jesus does not deny that his disciples have broken the law, but he does not agree that it is a problem, either. Instead, he reminds the Pharisees of a time when David was exempt from laws governing food eaten in temples because he was doing God’s work.

The laws concerning the Sabbath developed to protect God’s people’s need for sacred rest. But Jesus’ response to the Pharisees suggests that the laws have become so numerous and particular that they prevent people from doing God’s work. In Exodus 16, the Sabbath was an invitation to stop worrying about where food would come from and trust that God would provide it. God instructed them to refrain from the work of collecting manna, their daily bread, on the seventh day (Ex 16:22-26). When the disciples display this trust, snacking on nature’s provision of grain, the Pharisees accuse them of violating the Sabbath.

Jesus recognizes this as a problem, and he reframes the conversation. The many laws about how to observe the Sabbath are trumped by Jesus’ presence in the world. “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath,” he tells the Pharisees (Lk 6:5). Participating in the work of building God’s kingdom allows the disciples to focus on helping Jesus instead of on upholding the letter of the Law.

In the second half of this week’s passage, Jesus proves again that he is lord of the Sabbath. He knows that healing on the Sabbath is prohibited except in life-threatening situations, but that doesn’t stop him from restoring a man’s “withered hand” (v. 8). Again, the Pharisees are angered by Jesus’ lack of concern for Sabbath laws.

But Jesus refuses to let the Pharisees’ concern for the Law prevent him from doing the work God sent him to do. He challenges their legalism with a stern question: “is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” (v. 9). Obviously, we should seek to do good and avoid harming others every day. No law, regardless of its intention, should prevent us from reaching out to help those in need.

Just as the Sabbath in Exodus was an invitation for the Israelites to trust God’s provision, the Sabbath as reframed by Jesus is an invitation to continue doing God’s work. By upholding the Sabbath as Jesus encourages us to, we can find sacred rest in trusting God and in helping others. Freed from the prohibitions of Sabbath laws, our footsteps can also “fall a little lighter” on Sunday mornings.

Discussion Prompters

1. How do you experience the Sabbath? How are Sundays different from the other six days of the week?
2. How might the requirements for seventh-day rest in Exodus 16:22-26 change the way you think about your own Sabbath observance?
3. What laws or requirements prevent you from doing the work God calls you to do? How can you balance following God and following the law?
4. How will you respond to Jesus’ invitation to continue doing God’s work every day?

Bonnie Chappell is the editor of the Uniform Series Bible Study. She is a graduate of Mercer University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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  1. Bert Langdon says

    Bonnie, we were surprised to see your name on SS material. We had just read Daniel Vestal’s piece and went on down the page. How are things with you? We are still able to do a bit of traveling as well as keep up with one another.
    Deane & Bert Langdon