My daughter once taught at a school for Hassidic Jews. She had to learn a lot about their lifestyle in order to follow their customs and rules. One thing she told me about was that they prepared extra meals on Friday because they couldn’t cook on the Sabbath. That was the issue the Pharisees raised with Jesus. His disciples broke the Sabbath by picking the grain, even though they didn’t cook it. Jesus responded that the Sabbath is not about work.
Really? But the commandment says you work on six days and rest on the seventh.
Jesus pointed out that the law doesn’t exclude work entirely. Priests on duty in the temple can work on the Sabbath. In addition, Jesus pointed out that there is more to it than work. He used David as an example and the issue there was not that David worked, but that he broke the law by eating the sacred bread. Just like the disciples, David and his men broke a religious law in order to satisfy hunger.
Then Jesus directed the Pharisees to the central truth about the Sabbath. God wants mercy, not sacrifice. Somehow, showing mercy to others is a better way of keeping the Sabbath than the self-sacrifices require by not working. It’s also better than the religious sacrifices God Himself ordained.
Preparing in advance for a day of rest means twice as much work the day before. The Israelites in the wilderness had to gather twice as much manna on the day before the Sabbath. Not being able to work on the Sabbath means giving up some of the things I enjoy. But God didn’t give me the Sabbath so I should practice self-sacrifice. It's not just a day for going to church for worship either.
There’s no day of rest from mercy. God wants us to do good on the Sabbath. Jesus healed a deformed man (in church!). Hungry people should be fed. Even the Pharisees would rescue a sheep stuck in a well on that day.
In fact, when you take away the work, the normal every day things that need to be done, there’s more time for mercy. When we set aside time to focus only on God, He will direct our attention to loving others. At church I find myself talking to people I don’t have time to think about during the week. I can get to know them and learn how to pray for them and plan how I can support them - maybe even invite them over for a meal.
Without my daily distractions the Sabbath can become a day of showing compassion.
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath but He gave it to me as a gift. Just like with all His gifts, I should use it to serve Him by loving others.