Reflection on Mark 2.23-28

Jesus said: The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.

We often hear our politicians speaking of ‘red lines’, by which they mean the boundaries beyond which they are not prepared to trespass. These ‘red lines’ are usually associated with doctrines or philosophical tenets that underpin the way in which they perform their duties. Such ‘red lines’ will be invariably rooted in a set of principles that justify the way in which decisions are made, and the lives of those whom they represent are regulated. Unfortunately, such political principles often prove themselves to be flexible in nature … that which underpins today’s decisions can easily be reversed tomorrow! Too often the Church behaves in the same way as those ‘flexible’ politicians.

It is often said that one of the great ‘strengths’ of the Church of England is its ability to accommodate a great breadth of belief and practice. We can certainly see the truth of this ‘flexibility’ in the way the Church’s liturgy is constructed and in the way faith is expressed and lived out in different Christian communities. However, this flexibility and fluidity can also be a weakness. Different Church communities can become obsessed with man-made rules, such as the rigid observance of the sabbath. 

In the book of Genesis we read of God creating the world. At the end of his labours we read that: God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because God rested from all the work that he had done in creation. Then, in the ten commandments we read: Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy … six days you shall labour and do all your work but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. The word ‘sabbath’ means a day set aside from the humdrum round of daily work. Within the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) there exists a duty to honour the way in which God rested by setting aside one day a week for rest and worship. In earlier times this became one set day: for Jews it is Saturday, for Christians it is Sunday, for Muslims it is Friday. These set days allow faith communities to come together with a common purpose one day a week. But, modern society does not make such a rigid approach easy to observe.

In today’s reading Jesus speaks of David breaking one of the great taboos of the Jewish faith when, in a time of need, he and his companions ate the holy Bread of the Presence. Religious doctrine was set aside to serve the needs of the hungry. The same can be said of our observance of the sabbath. Society no longer sets aside one day a week when everything grinds to a halt. This does not mean that the sabbath has ceased to exist, rather it means that we should find that day in our week for rest and, as we rest, we should worship the God whose gracious bounty enriches our lives. 

Let us pray that we might observe the sabbath with joy, giving thanks for a time of rest as we praise God our creator and loving Father.