Lent 17: Withered sabbath...

Mark 3:1-6

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, ‘Come forward.’ Then he said to them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

First of all, I hope you'll forgive my failure to keep up with these posts as I'd planned to. Upon returning from Kentucky, I simply had no energy to engage anything on a daily basis—at least anything that involved any form of interacting with others. I decided to take a few days away so that I could come back to this endeavor more refreshed and energized. Thanks to all of you for your patience and support.

Honestly, if I were Jesus in this scene, it would take every ounce of my energy to not simply backhand the Pharisees. Seriously people. Are you that stupid? Are you that full of yourselves that you can't see past your own legalism and pride-driven goals?

Jesus, getting closer and closer to what many presume he knew was coming, begins to lose patience. We don't see him completely lose his temper, but I get the sense that he is definitely frustrated. Although Mark's gospel moves at a significantly faster pace than the other gospels, Jesus has still been ministering for some time and apparently, the religious leaders of his time still don't get it.

In the reading I've been doing lately (Moltmann, Merton, and Nouwen), the topic of sabbath has come up quite a bit. Nouwen talks about sabbath as a time to reconnect with oneself and with one's community. Merton (being himself) discusses the necessity of silence to sabbath. Moltmann shares his understanding sabbath as a time to restore strength, to become enlivened and engaged once again. Yet for the Pharisees of Jesus' time, the sabbath is all about one thing: the law.

Does a man who steals a loaf of bread to feed his family deserve imprisonment? Does the one with the withered hand, the one bleeding, the one blind, deaf, lame or dumb deserve suffer one more day just so the "law" of the sabbath can be upheld? The whitewashed tombs seem to think so. Thankfully Jesus does not. After asking the million dollar question of the zealots and putting them in their place, he goes right ahead and does what the sabbath in its very nature calls for: he restores.

This is what sabbath is about. It's not about staying dry just so some status-quo can be maintained. It's about soaking up the water, storing up on nourishment. Sabbath is a time to center, to come back to square one, to collect one's thoughts and emotions and take stock of where one is at.

Grad school makes having one full day of sabbath difficult, so for me, I've learned over these past few years to take my sabbath in smaller chunks, often on a daily basis. Unless otherwise motivated, I stop homework at a decent hour (yes, this is why I stay ahead on things as far in advance as I do). Lately, part of my sabbath ritual has been to sit down on my bed with Merton's Book of Hours and Claiborne's Common Prayer, light the oil lamp I brought back from Gethsemani, sit and pray. This is less about the prayer and more about the intention. My time in the bedroom is as much for me as it is for God. This is the beauty of sabbath (are you starting to see the distinction?). Sabbath isn't just about going to church. It's about doing what one needs to do to feel restored and regenerated. Sabbath is about loving and embracing the love offered by the Divine. It's a chance to stop, rest, think or not think, talk or be silent. The list of possibilities for how one can spend sabbath is immeasurable because of just how different we each are.

What does sabbath look like for you? How do you spend it? Do you make time for it at all? It is my hope and prayer that we all make time for ourselves and for God, that we make time for life, that we are filled with love and not withered by law.