The Third Commandment says we are to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy for the Lord. For the people of Israel, Saturday was the day dedicated to the worship of God, to prayer and to meditation on His Word. For us the Sabbath day is Sunday. In Old Testament times, Saturday was named as the Sabbath day because the book of Genesis says God created the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day He rested and enjoyed His creation.
So the Jews celebrated the Sabbath on Saturday to remember God's work of creation. Today we Christians celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday, the first day of the week, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead on a Sunday. Today we remember the new creation in Christ. Because of His resurrection we are new creatures, free from our sins and heirs of eternal life.
However, for unbelievers in our modern world, both Saturday and Sunday are days off from work. Without faith in Christ, men in their rational nature recognize the benefits of a break in the weekly routine of work. It is good to allow workers to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor. Of cource, the unbelieving world has forgotten the point of the Sabbath day is not only to relax and enjoy one's blessings, but also to worship and give thanks to God for them. Therefore, many people do not truly have a day of rest, because they are never content with what they have, but always want more and more. They avoid public worship because they feel they deserve more time for their own pleasures - on the beach, the banks of the river, the mountains or in their own homes. Sadly, this is the custom for many during all of Holy Week and the Christmas season, too.
This is contrary to the Third Commandment, but there is another grave error. In the time of Jesus, ther was a party among the Jews called the Pharisees. They were very zealous for the traditions of their forefathers and very proud of their own conduct. They thought because of their good works that they were more valuable in God's eyes than other men.
In our Gospel for today, one of the Pharisees, a very important man in the community, invited Jesus to his house for a meal on the Sabbath. According the Law of Moses, no one was supposed to work on the Sabbath, but to attend to the worship of God. This man and his friends made a great point of observing this rule. So, for example, the food for the meal undoubtedly was prepared the day before.
But they had also set a trap for Jesus, who they knew had compassion for the sick. Immediately upon entering the Pharisee's home, Jesus encountered a poor, sick man. The Pharisees thought that if Jesus in His mercy healed the man without saying a word, they could spread gossip about how Jesus did not respect the Law of Moses and thought nothing of working on the Sabbath.
But Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" That is, according to the Law of Moses. Nobody answered Him. Why? Because they knew the answer was "Yes."
In fact, Jesus kept the Law of Moses in every way. He attended public worship every Saturday, according to Luke 4:16. In His youth, His family journeyed to Jerusalem every year for the Passover. As a man, Jesus would travel to Jerusalem for all of the Jewish religious festivals. He obeyed all of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament during His earthly life.
Furthermore, the Law of Moses never forbade acts of mercy, as the Pharisees knew. As Jesus told them, "Who among you, if your donkey or ox falls into a well, does not immediately pull it out, even though it might be the Sabbath?" And, He implied, if they were willing to do this for their animals, why not care for their neighbor in the same fashion?
For the fulfillment of the Law is love. First, love of God, and second, love of one's neighbor. The Pharisees thought they were fulfilling the Law, but they were not motivated by love, but rather selfishness. Jesus pointed out as proof of this their behavior at wedding feasts. They always looked for the best seat, because they always were thinking of their own honor and their own righteousness.
This is not an attitude of love. To do the will of God, we must think of the well-being of others, not of ourselves. This is difficult because we are sinners. But as the Bible says and we say in our liturgy, if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us and cleanse from all evil.
May God grant us His Spirit to avoid the error of forgetting the Sabbath day and also to remember its purpose. Let us rejoice in the opportunities we have to praise God in public worsip, to enjoy the day of rest and to help our neighbor in need. Amen.
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