The Disciples and the Sabbath
What is the primary intention behind the Third Commandment of God in the Decalogue: “To keep holy the Sabbath day,” (Ex. 20:8-10)? The Pharisees in today’s gospel confront Jesus on the issue of keeping the Sabbath day, holy. It is said that Sabbath rest is meant to be a time to remember and celebrate God’s goodness and the goodness of His work both in creation and redemption; a day sets apart for the praise of God, His work of creation and saving actions on our behalf. It is to bring everyday work to a halt and to provide needed rest and refreshment. Jesus’ disciples are scolded by the scribes and Pharisees, not for plucking and eating corn from the fields, but for doing so on the day of Sabbath. In defending His disciples, Jesus argues from the Scriptures that human need has precedence over ritual custom. He says: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”
By saying, “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath,” Jesus is telling us that He is the center of our home, family, relationship among spouses and that He is the center also of our lives. But especially: First, He is the center of our worship. He says: “He is the Lord even of the Sabbath.” This assertion surprises His listeners but this is true. He must be the center of all our religious worship. Vatican Council II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (n.7) beautifully described this when emphasizing the manifold presence of Jesus in the Church’s liturgical celebrations. That He is present in the Sacrifice of the Mass not only in the person of his minister but especially also in the Eucharistic species. He is present in the sacraments so that when anybody baptizes it is really Christ Himself who baptizes. He is present in His word since it is He Himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in the Church. Lastly, He is present when the Church prays and sings, for He has promised ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name there am I in the midst of them,’ (Matt 18:20). And so He is really the center of all our worship.
Second, He is the center of our personal prayer. By saying, ‘He is lord even of the Sabbath,” He is telling us that He is the center of our personal prayer. Even the Holy Rosary or other Marian prayers, is above all a Christ-centered prayer because this is a contemplation of the face of Christ. Our spiritual and interior lives are meant to be anchored in a personal relationship, friendship, companionship and an ardent love for Jesus. We need Him to be with us everyday. And so therefore He must be the Lord of our spiritual journey.
Third, He is the center and foundation of morality. He says: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” By saying these words, Jesus is telling us that moral law is a consequence of man’s very nature and of his supernatural destiny. Christ is the ultimate key to understanding how we are to pursue the good in our every day moral decisions. Christ, who is the very foundation and ultimate explanation of moral good will judge all our actions, good and evil. All that is good leads us to eternal life in Christ, the center of human history and gives meaning to all reality.
At the end, G.K. Chesterton says: “It is not what men eat but what they digest that makes them strong; Not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; Not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; Not what we preach but what we practice that makes us Christians.”