31 October 2020
As he was passing through a field of grain on the sabbath, his disciples began to make a path while picking the heads of grain. At this, the Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the sabbath?” He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions were hungry? How he went into the house of God when Abiathar was high priest and ate the bread of offering that only the priests could lawfully eat, AND shared it with his companions?” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humans, not humans for the sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)
In chapter 19, Job vocalizes to his friends his need for rest: rest from his pursuer—that would be God—rest from his pain and torment, from his isolation and estrangement, and, yes, rest even from his friends: “How long will you afflict my spirit, grind me down with words,” he asks at the very beginning. Have you ever given or received something that was meant to be helpful only to find that it had made things worse? If you recall, on Thursday’s podcast we looked at hopelessness and its effect on our choices and actions, and here in chapter 19, since Job sees no relief in this life he longs to just be done with it all: There is no use in even trying.
In funerary rites across the vast range of denominations and traditions, mourners have for millennia heard these five words: They rest from their labors (or variations thereof). It is the comforting thought that after the hard work of living, that the faithful will enter into the peace of God’s presence. I grew up visiting quite a few churches travelling with my dad’s Southern Gospel quartet. One of the things that I would do during their set—since I’d had heard it many times—is thumb through the hymnals in the pews. (You can learn a lot about what a church believes by what it sings.) During this long-term, highly unscientific study, I usually discovered page-after-page of songs of longing—not longing for lost love or the return of a sweetheart but one for rest, for a time when we may “shake this earthly coil” and all the suffering that it entails. It’s a longing to be with lost friends and family, to be in a place of peace and not war, a place of comfort and not strife. “Sometimes you want to go…” It is a longing for sabbath rest. Job says:
As for me, I know that my vindicator lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust. This will happen when my skin has been stripped off, and from my flesh I will see God: I will see for myself, my own eyes, not another’s, will behold him: my inmost being is consumed with longing. (Job 19:25-27)
But when we consider Jesus’ final word’s to the Pharisee’s in our reading from Mark, is this something that we have to wait to receive, or is it available to us now?
“…the sabbath is made for humans, not humans for the sabbath.”
Notice that Mark tells us that the disciples aren’t just on a meandering weekend stroll nor are they merely hungry; they are in the process of making a path, and more specifically, a path for and with Jesus. “They can’t do that,” the Pharisees declare. Jesus’ response, in typical fashion, is something that they can’t really oppose, if they’re being honest. He says, “When David was in the midst of God’s unfolding will and was having to flee from Saul because of this, he and his companions actually ate the holy bread reserved for the priests. I assume you realize that God didn’t strike David dead.”
There’s a saying that is applied almost exclusively to a person’s occupation: Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. But what if this is not just about a job but has a much larger implication and a far deeper meaning?
“…the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”
Sabbath rest is not something that is to be achieved; rest from one’s labors is not an objective or a goal. The Son of Man is the purpose of sabbath; the Son of Man is over and through the sabbath; the Son of Man is the sabbath, because what is done for and with Christ Jesus is not labor.
Later in Job, we learn from Elihu that Job is at fault because he’s making this all about himself. Even the bulk of chapter 19 in Job can be summed up: “Woe is me.” Or as Patrick Steward says in a current commercial, “Do you want some cheese with your whine?”
If we accept what Paul says to the Athenians on Mars Hill in Acts 17 to be the truth, “…for in God we live and move and have our being,” then why can’t our rest, our sabbath, be found in every moment of our lives, no matter what we are—or aren’t—doing, since Christ, who is our sabbath, resides with us as we live out our calling. Amen.