Jesus & the Sabbath

Jesus went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. No other festival is as great as the Sabbath in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. The word Sabbath is mentioned more than one hundred and fifty times in the Bible. In three of the New Testament books, that of Mark, Luke and John, the word Sabbath appears at least forty times. Its importance was of such a nature that it was constantly open to discussion even in the time of Jesus.

Jesus did not do away with the Sabbath for he lived as an observant Jew and “went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day” (Luke 4:16). Like other sages of his time, he questioned those who rigidly interpreted the laws surrounding the Sabbath but, when he did question, he used arguments from within his own Jewish Tradition.

To a group of Pharisees who asked him why his disciples were plucking grain on the Sabbath, he replied, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God, when Abiathar was high priest, and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions” (Mark 2:25-26). Then he added,

“The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath”
(Mark 2:25-28).

Other sages of his time used the same argument:

“The Sabbath is given unto you, not you unto the Sabbath”
(Mekilta to Exodus 31:13).

Recently, in the Apostolic letter, Dies Domini, Pope John Paul II, emphasized Sunday “as the day above all other days which summons Christians to remember the salvation which was given to them in baptism and which has made them new in Christ.” The letter does not attempt to equate the Sabbath with Sunday but sees them as two separate and distinct days in which “there have always been groups within Christianity which observe both the Sabbath and Sunday as ‘two brother days.'”

Observing the Sabbath can only increase one’s participation in the spirit of Sunday.