Last week, a collective sigh of relief went up from Concordia's campus. The source of the sigh was none other than the fact that finally, summer vacation has arrived! Faculty and staff alike have been working hard all year long and now, we take moments here and there throughout the summer to rest, relax, and recharge. Of course, this week is the week before our Vacation Bible School, so the office is buzzing with activity, but our rest will come soon enough. Indeed, one of my favorite Bible comes at the tail end of the creation account in Genesis 2:2: "By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work." I figure if God can take a break every once in a while, so can I. In fact, I am actually commanded to: "The seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work" (Exodus 20:10). The Hebrew word for "Sabbath" is shabbat, meaning, "Stop!" The implication of the Sabbath, then, is clear: we have six days for working, but we are also to have a seventh day - a shabbat day - where we stop working and take a break.
The ancient rabbis took the Sabbath day very seriously. They even had a whole tractate of the Mishnah, a compendium of ancient rabbinical teaching, known as the Shabbat. And in the Shabbat, they outlined some 39 things prohibited on the Sabbath: "The principal acts of labor prohibited on the Sabbath are... Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding into sheaves, threshing, winnowing, fruit-cleaning, grinding, sifting, kneading, baking, wool-shearing, bleaching, combing, dyeing, spinning, warping, making two spindle-trees, weaving two threads, separating two threads, tying a knot, untying a knot, sewing on with two stitches, tearing in order to sew together with two stitches, hunting deer, slaughtering the same, skinning them, salting them, preparing the hide, scraping the hair off, cutting it, writing two letters, erasing in order to write two letters, building, demolishing in order to rebuild, kindling, extinguishing fire, hammering, transferring from one place into another. These are the principal acts of labor" (Mishnah Shabbat 7.2). For those of you who are hunters, I would like to call special attention to item 25: "deer hunting." In other words, no missing church for deer season!
Good natured ribbing aside, the rabbis were ruthless in their implementation of these laws. In ancient Judaism, the punishment for breaking a Sabbath was death. So you can imagine the incredulity of the religious rulers when, in our reading for today from Matthew 12, Jesus boldly, brazenly, and publicly, heals a man who has been struck with a paralyzed hand. "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" they ask angrily (verse 10). For to them, healing qualifies as work. And it is unlawful to work on the Sabbath. Jesus counters, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (verses 11-12). Jesus responds to these overly legalistic religious leaders: "People may need to take a vacation, but good never does. For it's always okay to do good. It's always okay to help someone, love someone, assist someone, and give to someone... even on the Sabbath." In other words, the Sabbath day, like any other day, is a day for goodness. Indeed, it is a day that is itself good: "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done" (Genesis 2:3).
Finally, then, the Sabbath is not just a day to do no work, it is also a day to do good. It is a day to love your family. It is a day to assist your neighbor. It is a day to treat your spouse. With that in mind, did you take the opportunity to "do good" on yesterday's Sabbath? If not, you have a whole week to plan a special act of goodness for this coming week's Sabbath. So think of an act of goodness that will bless someone's life and touch someone's heart and then, if it can wait, save it for the Sabbath. For, in that act of goodness, you may just find more rest than you ever imagined.