Keeping the Sabbath by Action

Scripture Focus: Jeremiah 17.21-23
21 This is what the LORD says: Be careful not to carry a load on the Sabbath day or bring it through the gates of Jerusalem. 22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors. 23 Yet they did not listen or pay attention; they were stiff-necked and would not listen or respond to discipline.

Mark 3.4-6
4 Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. 
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. 6 Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Reflection: Keeping the Sabbath by Action
By John Tillman

There is more than one way to desecrate the Sabbath.

The way of “keeping the Sabbath holy” that we commonly think of is by limiting what we do. We refrain from doing work. We focus on spiritual matters. We prioritize worship. This is the kind of warning that Jeremiah was sent to cry. “Stop the clamour of commerce.” “Stop the wheels of wealth accumulation,” the prophet says. But Jesus defines a second requirement to keep the Sabbath holy. 

To Jesus, keeping the Sabbath holy meant staying in step with God’s Spirit and leaving nothing undone that the Spirit commanded. His stinging question about what is lawful on the Sabbath goes unanswered by the teachers of the law, not because they don’t know the answer, but because they don’t like the answer they would be forced to give.

Jeremiah banned commerce on the Sabbath because the day was intended to be about the worship of God and enriching the community rather than one’s self. Instead, over the centuries, the restrictions of the Sabbath had become excuses for selfish inaction. The experts of the law used their expertise to dodge responsibility rather than shoulder it and to accumulate wealth and power rather than honor God with it.

There’s more than one way to make Jesus angry. 

Inaction in the face of someone who needs help is one way that is very reliable. Jesus burns with anger for their heartlessness, but it’s more than activism—Jesus takes action. When we get angry, we tend to cause harm. When Jesus gets angry, he heals.

Jesus was angry because these teachers were doing what the wealthy of Jerusalem were doing in Jeremiah’s day. They were tying up heavy loads for others to carry, (and on the Sabbath, no less) but would not lift a finger to help them.

Keeping the Sabbath holy, maintaining God’s justice, and establishing righteousness are not passive, actionless, states of spiritual attainment. God’s holiness moves. God’s righteousness rolls like a river. God’s justice falls on the wicked.

May our holiness surpass that of the religious leaders, as Jesus prayed it would. 
May we not live in prayerlessness during the week and expect God to show up on the weekend.
May we fulfill the Sabbath by worshiping in spirit and truth.
May we not desecrate the Sabbath with inaction in the face of need.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
He looks at the earth and it trembles; he touches the mountains and they smoke. — Psalm 104.33

– Divine Hours prayers from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 17 (Listen – 4:50) 
Mark 3 (Listen – 5:05)

Read more about The Focus of Christ’s Anger
It isn’t too often we see Jesus angry, so it makes sense to pay close attention to when and why it happens.

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The Focus of Christ’s Anger

Mark 3.5
[Jesus] looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts.

Reflection: The Focus of Christ’s Anger
By John Tillman

It isn’t too often we see Jesus angry, so it makes sense to pay close attention to when and why it happens. 

The word translated “angry” here is used many ways. Paul says we should rid our lives of it. Paul also uses it to describe God’s wrath that will come on the disobedient.

Jesus spent a lot of time with people who, by every cultural definition and religious law, would be under God’s wrath. Jesus ate with sinnersJesus spent time with heretics. Jesus graced the homes of financial swindlers and race traitors. Jesus spoke to fallen women. (Speaking to women at all made him an outlier to his culture.) Jesus touched lepers. Jesus befriended and praised foreign occupiers.

Shouldn’t Jesus have been angry with them?

In our culture of outrage, we can’t get enough of anger. We decry escalation of conflict using escalating rhetoric. We bemoan the sinking values of personal responsibility while refusing to take responsibility for the ills of society. We claim to value love and peace yet we high five those spewing hateful vitriol. We claim to value tolerance and diversity, yet we embrace politicians who seek domination and oppression of any opposition.

An angry Jesus could get a lot of retweets in our culture. Of course, we would want him to be angry with the same people we are and in the same way we are. However, when Jesus became angry, he was usually in a house of worship or the homes of the religious elite. 

Christ did not sling stinging rebukes or harsh language at the wide variety of sinners he encountered. He saved those for the Pharisees—who are the people in the Bible most culturally similar to modern, Western Christians. 

Why would we expect him to speak any differently today? Is Jesus angry…with us?

Part of prayer is seeking knowledge of our wrongdoing. In prayer we can honestly and openly seek to find the focus of Christ’s anger in our lives. Christ’s anger is a good anger. It is an anger that calls us to turn back. It is a healing anger that grieves at our selfishness and hard-heartedness. 

Seek today for what in your life causes Christ to grieve, to be angry. Ask the Holy Spirit to soften your heart and cleanse you.

Prayer: The Cry of the Church
O God, come to my assistance! O Lord, make haste to help me!

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Prayers from The Divine Hours available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Genesis 32 (Listen – 4:40) 
Mark 3 (Listen – 3:41)

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Read more about A Sign of Immaturity
As Christians, Pharisees would be the most frequent attenders of your church. They would not be similar to “cultural Christians” whose only identifying mark of Christianity is on a census taker’s form. In fact, they would probably look down on such uncommitted believers.

Read more about We Confess :: Worldwide Prayer
The gospel is better served by time spent confessing our own sins than time spent accusing the world of theirs. When we call others to confession, we ought to be inviting them to join us, not sending them somewhere we’ve never been.

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