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Saturday, September 3, 2011

Breaking the Sabbath

Jesus regularly broke the Sabbath, and we wonder why.  He was an observant Jew. He wanted to fulfill the law, not destroy it or supplant it.  Why then would he allow his disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath?  The answer seems almost too simple.  The Pharisees were not interested in the observance of the law, but in catching Jesus in opposition to it.  If they could demonstrate that Jesus had no respect for the law, they would win the battle for power and honor. Like so many of us, they wanted to win, they wanted to be right.

Jewish law about the Sabbath, although strict, was not rigid then or now. Mati Goldstein, commander of the Jewish rescue-mission to 2010 Haiti earthquake, said, “We did everything to save lives, despite Shabbat . People asked, ‘Why are you here? There are no Jews here,’ but we are here because the Torah orders us to save lives…We are desecrating Shabbat with pride…” 

Clearly, Jews today and the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, knew that the law commanded them to help save lives. Jesus also knew this and challenged the Pharisees with an interpretation of the law that they would have known. His disciples were hungry. They did not want to break the law; they wanted to allay their hunger.

Helping those in need, even our enemies, is a constant theme in the New Testament. How many times have we heard the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel:  “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me…. whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”  There is nothing in this passage that suggests a believer should avoid feeding the hungry or clothing the naked on the Sabbath.  Justice and charity trump the law. Jesus knew this as an observant Jew, and we know our obligations as Christians.  The hungry cannot wait for Sabbath to be over to find food for themselves or their children. We must help them now.

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