On a certain Sabbath Jesus was walking through a field of ripe grain. His disciples were pulling off heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands to get rid of the chaff, and eating them. Some Pharisees said, “Why are you doing that, breaking a Sabbath rule?” But Jesus stood up for them. “Have you never read what David and those with him did when they were hungry? How he entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat? He also handed it out to his companions.” Then he said, “The Son of Man is no slave to the Sabbath; he’s in charge.” (THE MESSAGE)
As a youth group member of my local church, I would attend Sunday afternoon fellowship prior to church. With a bit of time to spare, a few of us would toss a football around in the church grounds. That is until we were politely but firmly told that this was a bad witness to the neighbours who saw us playing sport on Sundays. We were also reminded we were breaking biblical rules by doing this.
Times have changed. However we interpret the so called Sabbath command, we certainly don’t take it quite so literally. Jesus himself seemed to avoid a literalist view of it. He was making the more general point that the rules were meant to enhance life and protect our welfare, not to impose some legalistic burden on us.
There will always be some who want to stick rigorously to the rules, whether it be in meetings or church or everyday life. They find security in them. Others blithely ignore the rules and make up their own. No one orders them around! But we need to avoid these extremes.
The rules are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an end. Rules and regulations can create safe spaces for us to develop our true humanity and experience true community. Our human flourishing is not so much dependent on the fine print of the law but on the heart and mind we bring to it.