This morning’s gospel (LK 6:1-5) takes me back again to my youth from whence come many sayings foundational to my upbringing in family and faith. This one was often used to justify laziness but its meaning in those cases was known to be distorted! One of the “laws of the Church” was “No unnecessary servile work on Sunday.” I emphasize the word unnecessary because that was the issue – in our home and in the gospel of today.
Jesus was traveling – by foot, of course – with his disciples and they were hungry so they stopped to pick and eat some grain from a field. From somewhere “some Pharisees” appeared, challenging what they were doing – picking grain – because it was the Sabbath day. “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” they asked. Instead of answering directly, Jesus spoke of an incident that was recorded about King David taking “the bread of offering” from the temple and sharing it with the hungry. Basically, Jesus was saying the same thing that was true in my childhood – that if there was a need for something to be done or someone to be served in a way that wasn’t usually allowed, the higher need superseded the lower. The question was really about the spirit rather than the letter as well as the purpose, for example, feeding the hungry.
Sabbath was always known as a day of worship and rest – a day dedicated to God and the things of God. It wasn’t a day for doing laundry and ironing, cleaning the house or shopping. All of those things took place during the week or on Saturday for those of us whose Sabbath was on Sunday – the day when we went to Church, had a big family meal midday and visited or just spent the rest of the day in quiet activities.
The whole world is changed now. Stores, factories and restaurants function “24/7” and travel soccer takes the place of family dinner. Work (the necessary servile kind) is divided into first, second and third shifts and people do not have a choice about their schedules. What are we to do with the concept of Sabbath in such an environment? That, for me, is the question of the day.