Thursday, October 04, 2012

Breaking the Sabbath Law?

Thursday, October 4, 2012 -- Week of Proper 21, Year 2
Francis of Assisi, Friar, 1226

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today's scripture readings.]

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
     (Book of Common Prayer, p. 985)
Psalm 105:1-22 (morning)     //     105:23-45(evening)
Hosea 5:8 - 6:6
Acts 21:27-36
Luke 6:1-11

As today's Gospel reading opens, Jesus and his disciples are walking through the grainfields on the Sabbath.  In the background is the remembrance of the 4th of the Ten Commandments:  "Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy."  Some disciples pluck some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat them.  It is a clear violation of Sabbath custom.  But Jesus defends them.  They were hungry, he says.  Besides, Jesus argues, when King David's soldiers were hungry, they ate the bread of the Presence which is set aside only for priests.

On another Sabbath, the authorities were watching Jesus.  In the synagogue was a man with a withered right hand.  One of the constant debates among the rabbis was what constitutes an emergency on the Sabbath which is significant enough that one might respond actively.  One strict interpretation forbade defending oneself if attacked militarily, and an army of Jewish soldiers once were massacred rather than breaking the Sabbath by fighting. 

Jesus presents the question differently.  "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?"  That would not have been very convincing.  The authorities would have told him, this man's arm will be withered tomorrow.  Save your work of healing him until tomorrow.  You have six days to do your good work of healing.  Do not profane the Sabbath.

Jesus' interpretation of the Ten Commandments and the Law differed from the conventional teaching.  The difference?  Jesus always interpreted the law through the lens of compassion and love.

Christians regularly disagree about the interpretation of the Bible.  Can women speak in church?  Can a divorced person be remarried?  Can a non-Christian be saved?  Can a gay couple be blessed?  Can the state execute a convicted criminal?  Can a country go to war?  Can life be created in a test tube?  Can an unintended pregnancy be ended medically?  Can a couple use artificial means of birth control?  Can one person own another person?  Can government be something other than a monarchy? Can businesses charge interest?  Should we pay taxes?  What is my responsibility to the poor?  Can property be owned in perpetuity?  All of these are issues that have a history of conflict in the Christian church. 

What does the Bible say?  It depends on which verses you highlight.  People interpret scripture differently.  And we can be very hard on each other over those interpretations. 

At our best we make the best choices we can, with fear and trembling, knowing our choice could be wrong.  At our best, we follow Jesus' example, and we make our choices by interpreting through the lens of love and compassion.  What is most loving and compassionate?  Do that.


Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Go to:

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at

Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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