The Heart of the Sabbath

Last Updated on August 27, 2022 by GMC

God reposing on the Sabbath day. Illustration from the first Russian engraved Bible (1696).

30th Week in Ordinary Time, Monday (Year II)

Ephesians 4:32—5:8; Luke 13:10-17 

“On the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2-3). 

But Jesus answered them [on the Sabbath], “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” (John 5:17).

What does it mean for God to be at rest or at work? Unlike creatures who conserve and expend energy, God’s being and action are continuous and simultaneous. 

“For God never ceases from making something or other; but, as it is the property of fire to burn, and of snow to chill, so also it is the property of God to be creating,” wrote Philo of Alexandria, the first-century Jewish philosopher (Allegorical Interpretation I.III).

God continually sustains all things in existence. If at any moment he withdrew, all things would fall into nothingness. “Work” and “rest” are one and the same thing for divinity. 

Mercy is at the heart of God’s being and action. We are called to be imitators of the Father, even on the Sabbath: Be merciful, just as also your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Merciful actions flow from a merciful heart.

The Son of the God of Genesis, who “rested on the seventh day,” stepped out of the pages of the Torah and demonstrated what the words really mean.

Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, “Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.” He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God (Luke 13:10-13).

St. Augustine allegorized the woman to “the whole human race” (Sermon 162B). The kingly and majestic Adam formed from clay became crippled and deformed by separating from God. Jesus took pity on the woman (and on humanity) and healed her. 

But the leader of the synagogue, indignant that Jesus had cured on the sabbath, said to the crowd in reply, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the sabbath day” (Luke 13:14). 

The holy words of Scripture can be misused by the ill-intentioned. Even the tempter quoted it with great cunning in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13).

The Lord said to him in reply, “Hypocrites! Does not each one of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it out for watering? This daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years now, ought she not to have been set free on the sabbath day from this bondage?” When he said this, all his adversaries were humiliated; and the whole crowd rejoiced at all the splendid deeds done by him (Luke 13:15-17).

Religious and legal sophistries were unmasked by common sense: Why should mercy be shown to the animals and not to fellow human beings? Jesus lifted up the “daughter of Abraham,” and restored her dignity and stature. The common people “rejoiced” because they had compassion for their sister. The “humiliated” authorities, unable to sympathize, nursed wounded pride. 

Imitating God’s Sabbath rest means cultivating a merciful heart. 

Brothers and sisters: Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma… For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (Ephesians 4:32-5:2; 8).

One Reply to “The Heart of the Sabbath”

  1. Beautiful reflection. Thank you for helping us live as children of the light. Oh, I like the change in color to Green of your icon. Many blessings of renewal and abundance to you.

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