Memorial of Saint Anthony, abbot
(Hebrews 6:10-20; Mark 2:23-28)
When Fr. Dan gave retreats for priests, he insisted that they take seriously the “Sabbath.” He explained that God designated one day of the week for complete rest. Jewish Law designates the seventh day – Saturday – as the Sabbath. In this way it conforms the practice of the people to the Book of Genesis where God rests after six days of creation. Christians have transferred the Sabbath to the eighth day -- Sunday – on which Christ’s resurrection recreated the universe. Fr. Dan recognized that priests work on Sunday in performing their ministry. So he told them to find and stick to another day for rest. He was applying the same kind of flexibility that Jesus shows in today’s gospel passage.
The Pharisees perform an invaluable service when they promote fulfillment of the Sabbath Law. Too often people abuse their own good and do not give God His due by foregoing Sabbath ritual. But the Pharisees were too strict in their interpretation. They were unable to see exceptions even in the case of extreme need. Jesus is more flexible. He admits that in the case of hunger one might pick grain to eat: “’The Sabbath,” he says, “’was made for man.’” He makes another crucial point when he says, “’…the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.’” This indicates his divinity. Since God instituted the Sabbath law, only He might alter it.
The Sabbath principle, as observing one day of worship and rest each week is sometimes called, causes difficulty today. We want to take weekends off with no concern about attending mass. We also have work obligations every day, including Sundays. We should follow Jesus’ pointers in today’s gospel. Some slack may be given for work because the Sabbath is made for human good. But we should make a reasonable attempt to attend mass as a way to give due praise to “’the lord of the Sabbath.’”