Honoring the Sabbath
Quarter: Jesus and the Just Reign of God
Unit 2: Jesus ushers in the Reign of God
Sunday school lesson for the week of January 5, 2014
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 6:1-11
Background Scripture: Luke 6:1-47
On this first Sunday of a new year, we continue the quarter’s emphasis upon Jesus and the reign of God. We have moved forward in time some 30 years!
Jesus is now a grown man who has been lovingly reared in a devout Jewish home. Since Luke’s account of his childhood, which could only have come from his mother, we have learned about the preaching of his cousin John, his baptism by John, his genealogy (back to Adam!), his temptation in the wilderness, his first sermon in Nazareth (first his approval and then rejection there because he included non-Jews in God’s love), his calling of the Twelve from many disciples, his power to heal, and the beginning of opposition from scribes (the teachers of the Law) and some Pharisees! WOW! You just learned chapters three, four and five of Luke! Good work!
Since the next two lessons are based on chapter six, why not read the whole thing now? Two stories about conflict with some Pharisees are the basis of today’s study. With some humor we see these self-righteous leaders following Jesus through a wheat field on a Sabbath! They observe his Disciples picking (reaping) grain and rubbing (threshing) the heads to eat the kernels. Both forms of work were proscribed on the Sabbath. The Disciples were breaking the Law.
Immediately, we must confront our own attitudes about the Jewish Law. We must remember Jesus was a faithful Jew in worship and practice. He was in the synagogue on the Sabbath often. He wanted to share the Passover with the Twelve before the cross. The issue was not the Law itself but why God gave the Law in the first place. We believe the Law, like Jesus himself, was a gift of grace from a loving God. As is recorded in Mark, Jesus saw the purposes of God’s gift: “The Sabbath (Law) was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)
The Church too often has denigrated the observances of the Law and, in the process, lost an understanding important to Jesus. In answer to the criticism of the Pharisees, he raises the issue of human need by using an example from David’s life. When hungry, David ate the sacred Bread of the Presence and gave some to his companions. “The Law was made for humans; not humans were made for the Law.” (Mark 2:27-28; paraphrase is ours.) David broke the Law but for the best of reasons – to alleviate hunger. Then both Luke and Mark conclude, “So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
Why do you come to worship? Bruce Larson suggests we come for one of three reasons: duty, diversion, or dynamite. We come out of a sense of obligation to God or the Church, or we come because we have nothing better to do, or we come because we believe God has the power to transform human lives and history. If the latter, then the metaphor of feeding is appropriate. When we come to worship to be fed, we find the living Bread. That Bread has the power to give and sustain life. Without food, we shrivel and die. The Sabbath is a banquet table set to feed the hungry. David was correct in eating the Bread of the Presence.
The other conflict happened when Jesus, the rabbi, was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Wouldn’t you like to know what he said? Luke doesn’t tell. The Pharisees had come to check up on Jesus – to be sure he worshipped properly! (Sound familiar? “We don’t worship that way!”) Again, Jesus sees a need where the Pharisees were looking for improper behavior. A man is present in worship with a withered right hand. The particular hand is important – he’s not just disabled, but has lost his economic and social position in the community. The right hand meant all of that and more! In that society, the left hand was only used for demeaning things (in Latin the word for left is “sinistra” – our word sinister is a derivative.)
Jesus has the man stand before everyone and asks a rhetorical question: “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or destroy it?” There is a pregnant pause as he scans the congregation. Then he tells the man “Stretch out your hand!” That’s all Jesus says or does! It is enough! The hand is fully restored, which means the man is restored to his place in the community. Feeding the hungry and healing the disabled are proper tasks to do on the Sabbath – but not for the Pharisees. They became enraged and began to plot what could be done to rid themselves of this dangerous innovator – even revolutionary.
Walter Bruggeman, noted Old Testament scholar and professor at Columbia Seminary in Decatur, has an important word to say both about First Century Judaism and the Church today. Keeping the Sabbath, with all of its rules and regulations, was the primary way the Jewish people had to witness to their faith in the living God. Immersed in an alien culture we call Greco-Roman, the people of God identified themselves with the committed practice of Sabbath-keeping. If you equate Greek with educated and Roman with power, you can readily see the message for us today. The world identifies significant people by what they know or can do. The Judeo-Christian faith calls us to be identified by who we are as disciplined believers. The world worships at the altar of money and power. The believer worships at the altar of the living God.
A disturbing question for modern believers is: “Where are you on the Sabbath?”
The day of worship, Saturday or Sunday, makes no difference. What difference does it make IF you worship? Ah, that’s the question! Jesus does not want us to be legalistic in our approach to worship, but the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit deserve our committed worship, our adoration, and our love. Herein is our relationship to God confirmed. Our prayers, our songs, and our thinking are the ways that relationship is enriched. Loving God with ALL our heart, mind, soul and strength can find no better outlet than regular, weekly worship.
The Fourth Commandment is given as a day of rest in Exodus 20 to remind us of the gift of life in God’s creation. We celebrate His creation each time we gather. In Deuteronomy 5, the Fourth Commandment is given as a way of remembering God’s redemption of the people of Israel from bondage and slavery in Egypt. Likewise, life, redeemed and freed, is God’s gracious gift to us in Jesus Christ. Worship of the Living God is one of the best ways we have to say “thank you” for life given and redeemed! See you in worship after Sunday school next week!