One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” – Mark 2:23-28
When God created the world, he worked for 6 days straight, then he took a day off. On the seventh day, God needed to rest. This is the divine order of creation: work hard and rest. The first part is easy, especially for we Americans influenced by the old puritan work-ethic. We work and work and work. We rise early in the morning and clock out much too late. But do we ever stop to rest?
I remember the days before smartphones, social media, and email. When these technologies first became the tools of the workplace, many hoped they would lead to shorter work weeks and make a healthy work-life balance more attainable. Sadly, the exact opposite has happened. We never turn off. We’re always connected. Many of us are always at work and never rest. This is not how God made us.
If God needed to rest, don’t you think we should rest as well? Enter the gift of the sabbath. The sabbath is God’s invitation (and command) to do nothing so that your mind, body, and soul can rest and recharge. It doesn’t have to be a Sunday, but it would do all of us well to carve out time each week for true rest that is uninterrupted by the drive of human work.
Ruth Haley Barton says that these sabbath days should be reserved only for rest, worship, and delight. When you enter such a time and space, only do those activities which lead to rest, worship, and delight. No working!
In today’s scripture, Jesus points out the truth behind the sabbath and all of God’s commands. They were made for us to make our lives better and not the other way around. The sabbath rest brings us closer and opens us to experience God the other days of the week. God asks us to cease working not so we develop external holiness, but so our lives are more aware of God’s presence. The Pharisees missed this and viewed the sabbath as just another religious task to be completed. Meanwhile, Jesus takes us right to the heart: God’s longs to give you rest, to let you get to know him, and to refresh your body for all the other stuff the world pulls on you to do. When we enter rest, we’re reflecting the God who made us in his image.
So, lighten up, work a little less, and rest.