“Jesus spoke to the scholars the law and Pharisees in reply, asking, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?” But they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him.” (Luke 14,3f)
It has always seemed strange to me how much Jesus argues with the Pharisees and the scholars of the law about the sabbath day observance. These arguments and Jesus’ activity on the sabbath eventually will be used against him in his trial. Why is this such a critical issue? At the heart of Jesus’ arguments about the sabbath day rest is not really the meaning of the law, what is licit or not, but rather, what is the meaning of the sabbath rest? What does it mean to share the sabbath rest of God the Father? There were countless laws and regulations regarding the sabbath day and what one could or couldn’t do. These laws and regulations seem to have become an end in themselves rather that being a means that would lead to a true end in relationship with God the Father. What could have been the true meaning of the sabbath that God has given to human persons?
The sabbath is a day that is set apart to rest but not to rest in the sense of doing nothing all day, that would be boring. On the sabbath our souls find rest in God. On the sabbath we come home to God and rest in his presence. To rest in God is to share in his goodness and find joy in all that is good that God has created. To rest in God is to contemplate with him the beauty and goodness of our life in God. At the end of each day of creation, God contemplated his work and “God saw how good it was.” (Gen 1,18.104.22.168.25) On the sixth day “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Gen 1,31) God’s life is a life of contemplation. God takes joy in his creation. To share in the rest of God on the sabbath is to share in his joy, to enjoy the fruits of six days of labor. On the sabbath day we can contemplate and celebrate with God the goodness of the fullness of new life. On the sabbath we remember that God is the one who always “makes all things new.” (Rev 21,5) The sabbath rest is to remember the good, God alone is good. (Mk 10,18) We remember and we give thanks for the gift which is life. We remember that life is fruitful and we share the first fruits of our labors.
As Christians we now observe the Lord’s Day, the eighth day, the day of new life, the renewal of life in Jesus Christ, the day of our salvation, the day of resurrection. The Lord’s Day is the day when Jesus restored all of creation to its original goodness by defeating sin and death. The Lord’s Day is a day to remember our new life in Christ and the restoration of all things in Christ. During his ministry Jesus anticipates this meaning and illustrates the meaning of the sabbath rest by curing people, celebrating life and enjoying the fruits of creation. The sabbath rest is a day for healing, restoring, contemplating, remembering and celebrating new life. Jesus cannot pass up an opportunity to restore someone to the fullness of life, especially on the sabbath. Now we are invited to “rest” on the Lord’s Day, not by doing nothing or sitting around on a couch but by actively participating with Jesus in the renewal and restoration of life. On the Lord’s Day we remember how good it is to be with the Lord and share in his glory. (Mt 17,4) We rest in his presence and we are renewed in Word and Sacrament. We give thanks and we share in the joy of the Father for it pleases the Father to give us the kingdom. We contemplate the goodness of God the Father and our life in the world to come.
“Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath or not?” Of course it is, that is what the sabbath is all about and the Lord continues to cure us of our sins through the Paschal Mystery that we remember and celebrate with joy on the Lord’s Day. You find rest in that.