This past week on Tuesday, our daily readings addressed the question of the Sabbath and what role in plays in the life of faith. The passage that we read is Mark 2:23-28. The Gospels depict Jesus and his disciples walking through a field of grain (maybe wheat or barley) on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. As they walked, they picked some of the grain from the stalks, and I assume that they ate it too. The Pharisees criticized Jesus and said that what his disciples were doing was unlawful. They were referring to the Third Commandment in which God commanded his people to keep holy the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day was a day of rest, but the question was how far that rest should extend. Some like the Pharisees took a very strict interpretation, and these people criticized Jesus for picking grain or even offering healing on the Sabbath.
This Gospel scene is a good one for us to focus on as we discuss the role of the Lord’s Day in our life as Christians. In response to the criticisms of the Pharisees, Jesus called them to reflect on the meaning of the Lord’s Day and why it exists in the first place. Profoundly and succinctly, he said, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.” As Jesus often does, he calls us to think about how God made things “from the beginning.” This was his strategy when it came to teaching on marriage, as he points us to Genesis for the true meaning of marriage. In the same way, we can look to Genesis for the meaning of the Sabbath.
The creation story in Genesis says that on the seventh day, God rested. The number seven is always significant in scripture, symbolizing completion or harmony. Seven is also the number of a covenant. To make a covenant official, the word used in Hebrew is similar to the number seven (so I’m told). So, giving the seventh day of each week to God was a sign of their covenant with him. This covenant was renewed every Sabbath by prayer and rest.
The Sabbath was made for man. The Jewish people, and later the Church, have always recognized the importance of keeping holy the Lord’s Day. With the beginning of the New Covenant, the covenant day has been transferred from Saturday to Sunday. This is to honor the resurrection of Jesus, and in keeping with the traditions of the earliest Christians. The primary way that Catholics can keep the Lord’s Day holy is by attending Mass. To voluntarily not attend Mass is a way of breaking the covenant that we have with God. We need to go to Mass each Sunday (or Saturday evening) to renew that covenant relationship and be sustained with the Body and Blood of Jesus. For those in our parish who cannot attend Mass because of being homebound or quarantined, it is good to watch Mass if possible (although not required), or at least set some time apart during the day to pray with the Sunday readings.
However, attending Mass is not the only way that we should keep Sunday holy. The Lord’s Day should still be a day of rest for us as Christians. This does not necessarily mean physically resting (although that is good too), but it is primarily a sort of spiritual rest. The day should be marked and set apart from the other six days in the week by some family prayer time or visits to the homebound. Sunday is a good day to study a spiritual book or renew connections with family and friends. Keeping Sunday as a day of rest is a reminder to us that we are made for more than work. In heaven, there will be no more work to do, and we will be able to enter into the rest that is eternal with our heavenly Father. The Sabbath was made for man, because we need rest and renewal in God’s merciful love.