Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sabbath Mode

One class each year is devoted to the Third Commandment, keeping the Sabbath holy. For a given Catechism subject, we review any Old Testament sources, how it was understood in the OT, how it was treated by Jesus in the NT, and how it's understood today. The Sabbath class is a nice example of letting the Bible tell most of the story (with comments and discussion, of course). It's good for the kids to hear a sweep of Scripture from the earliest treatment of a subject to the last; gets them used to thinking comprehensively about the Bible, as opposed to fragmented thinking about just this or that verse; and it shows a consistency of thought between the Bible and the Church.

This post overlaps thematically with this one, Sabado, which emphasizes Q&A, while this one treats the Bible sources.

The Bible passages are taken from my text file for the class. If I have numerous passages in a class period such as this one, I collate them ahead of time in a file; it saves a lot of deadtime I otherwise spend flipping to the right pages. I should also mention that I do not like to refer to verses: time permitting, I quote passages. Context matters.

Genesis 1-2:
31 God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed--the sixth day. (Evening starts the day, and still does for observant Jews)
1 Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed.
2 Since on the seventh day God was finished with the work he had been doing, he rested (shabbated) on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken.
3 So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested (שבת) from all the work he had done in creation. (notice Genesis twice says God shabbated for emphasis)
Exodus 20:
8 "Remember to keep holy the sabbath day. 9 Six days you may labor and do all your work,
10 but the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD, your God.
11 In six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the LORD has blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.
(The Bible often repeats concepts for emphasis)

At this point we discuss how seriously Jews took this commandment, and that by Jesus' day, there were 39 rules about what could not be done on the Sabbath. I mention Joe Lieberman and contemporary Jewish Sabbath observances such as not driving, flipping light switches, or changing TV channels.

In the NT, we see Jesus changing the emphasis of the Sabbath:

John 5:
2 Now there is in Jerusalem at the Sheep (Gate) a pool called in Hebrew Bethesda, with five porticoes. 3 In these lay a large number of ill, blind, lame, and crippled. 5 One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. 6 When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been ill for a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be well?" 7 The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me." 8 Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your mat, and walk." 9 Immediately the man became well, took up his mat, and walked. Now that day was a Sabbath. 10 So the Jews said to the man who was cured, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to carry your mat."

(Probably the 'Jews' in this case are Pharisees, the rule experts. Can you imagine getting on a lame man's case for carrying his mat?)

15 The man went and told the Jews that Jesus was the one who had made him well. 16 Therefore, the Jews began to persecute Jesus because he did this on a Sabbath. 17 But Jesus answered them, "My Father is at work until now, so I am at work."

(Even after God finished the work of creation, he still had to work to maintain it in existence)

18 For this reason the Jews tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God.

Luke 14:
1 On a Sabbath he went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. (They're waiting for Jesus to break a Sabbath rule)
2 In front of him there was a man suffering from dropsy. 3 Jesus spoke to the scholars of the law and Pharisees, asking, "Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?" 4 But they kept silent; (they've learned not to argue with Jesus) so he took the man and, after he had healed him, dismissed him.
5 Then he said to them, "Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the sabbath day?" (Even the Pharisees will break the rules if they think something good needs to be done immediately)
6 But they were unable to answer his question.

Luke 6:
1 While he was going through a field of grain on a Sabbath, his disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. (I act out rubbing the chaff off of the kernels)
2 Some Pharisees said, "Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?"
3 Jesus said to them in reply, "Have you not read what David did when he and those with him were hungry? 4 (How) he went into the house of God, took the bread of offering, which only the priests could lawfully eat, ate of it, and shared it with his companions." (I briefly tell the story of David and the showbread, 1Samuel 21)
5 Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath; the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath." (Jesus has authority to say what's ok on the Sabbath: the wellbeing of people is more important than the rules, which have become an end rather than a means)

6 On another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. 7 The scribes and the Pharisees watched him closely to see if he would cure on the sabbath so that they might discover a reason to accuse him. (Their hearts are hardened against Jesus and his message)
8 But he realized their intentions and said to the man with the withered hand, "Come up and stand before us." And he rose and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them, "I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?" (They don't want to lose an argument with Jesus)
10 Looking around at them all, he then said to him, "Stretch out your hand." He did so and his hand was restored.
11 But they became enraged and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

Why do we observe the New Testament Sabbath on the first day of the week, Sunday, instead of the last day, Saturday?

Mark 16:
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go and anoint him. 2 Very early when the sun had risen, on the first day of the week, they came to the tomb. (We see that Jesus rose on the first day, Sunday. So every Sunday is a little celebration of Easter)

Acts 20:
7 On the first day of the week when we gathered to break bread, Paul spoke to them because he was going to leave on the next day, and he kept on speaking until midnight. (Years after Jesus ascended into heaven, we see the first Christians participate in the Last Supper on the first day, Sunday. So we too participate in the Last Supper at Mass on Sunday)

Oh, Sabbath Mode....I almost forgot. That's an optional Kosher feature of many modern appliances, such as refrigerators. Since opening a fridge can turn on the interior light, or make the compressor start up, it's understood to be work. But a Sabbath-mode fridge can be set so that during the Sabbath the inside light won't come on, nor will the compressor start when the door is opened....thus no work is done per the modern understanding of the 39 rules. I bring an ad like this Sabbath mode oven or this Sabbath Mode Kit for Refrigerators to show the kids I am not making things up.