The scribes and Pharisees weren’t all wrong. In today’s Gospel their motives were definitely suspect, wanting to trap Jesus in their scrupulous interpretations of the Law. But their desire to protect the Sabbath carried some weight, a weight that deserves our attention.
The Sabbath had been set in Jewish Law since the days of Moses, and for very good reasons. In toiling seven days a week, the Hebrew people could easily lose perspective about what they did and did not control in their lives. To work endlessly, God recognizes, leaves humans spiritually and physically depleted and distorted in our relationship to all creation, especially our relationship to God.
Today in our Western culture we ignore the Sabbath more than at any time in human history. Sundays are days, in many people’s lives, for packing in as much activity as possible. Some work long hours on Sundays out of necessity like medical or security personnel. But many others see Sunday as just another day to add more hours to their work schedules to make a few more dollars.
Others, driven to accomplish more or craving more entertainment, sports practices and events, fill Sundays with back-to-back activities.
As I reflect on the Biblical meaning of keeping sacred the Lord’s Day, I realize that the commandment is intended to strengthen our dependence on God. Pausing one day a week, not driven to complete another project or assignment or attend another event, gives us the mental and physical space in our lives to understand in a deeper way how totally dependent we are on God for everything.
Not letting the many external pulls and tugs of the swirling world about us direct us, but letting God direct us on Sundays, happens when we collect ourselves in silence and sit in God’s presence for a spell. When we add to this silence attendance at the source and summit of our lives, the liturgy, God leads us into a serenity and joy that we can carry into the new week.
Jim Wayne is a board member of the Passionist Solidarity Network (PSN), and author of The Unfinished Man. He lives in Louisville, Kentucky.