“At that time Jesus went through the cornfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some ears of corn and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, ‘Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.’” —Matthew 12:1-2
The reaction of the Pharisees in the opening verse of this devotion may have been sharp, but we have to understand that picking a head of grain, rubbing it and eating it was breaking the conventional understanding of Sabbath rule keeping. The Pharisees were calling Jesus’s disciples law-breakers, unholy and unrighteous.
Although the Israelites were commanded to keep the Sabbath holy, what the Pharisees were appealing to was the rabbinical traditions or the oral interpretation of the Old Testament law. Rabbis had unpacked various aspects of the law in order to help people understand rules for holy living; these rabbinical teachings had been gathered over the ages into what we call in common day the Talmud, which outlined 39 prohibitions of what constituted work.
I remember driving up to a Christian camp and there were a bunch of signs hanging at the entrance of the campground: no trespassing, no smoking, no swearing, no speeding and no loud music. There were so many “no” signs that by the time we pulled into the check-in, I thought this was “Camp No.” It did not create a welcoming atmosphere and felt kind of suffocating. Even though those signs were probably intended to set a tone of respectability, the impact it was having was a tone of Pharisee-ability.
In the Old Testament, the Sabbath was supposed to be a day of rest, distinct for the people of Israel, but by the time of the New Testament, it turned into a day of rules that suffocated everyday life. The Pharisees had made something beautiful into something awful. Instead of a day delighting in God, it became a day of dos and don’ts. This was not just a struggle for the Pharisees, this is a struggle for all of us too. We can take the Word of God and instead of seeing the beauty of what God has invited us into, we see the boundaries He has placed for us to protect our well-being, and get fixated on the boundaries.
If we find ourselves focusing primarily on what we cannot do, we may miss understanding that the Sabbath was meant to bridge the worship of God with the world of man and how we treat others. It was meant to be a day of blessing, of celebration, of generosity and of mercy, but the Pharisees made it a day of death, suffocating the life out of what God intended for it to be. The Sabbath is God’s day for us to reflect, to celebrate, to give thanks and to trust that He alone is enough.
Dear God, thank You for the Sabbath, a time to reflect, celebrate, give thanks and trust that You are enough. Praise You!