Honoring the Sabbath

Commenting on the Sabbath, Rabbi Jacob Neusner said, “Not working on the Sabbath stands for more than nitpicking ritual. It is a way of imitating God.” Therefore, he suggests that keeping the Sabbath is not just about not doing something, but of celebrating creation.

As I read that line I thought about the episode in Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath. One of those listening to him teaching was a man with a withered hand. The scribes and Pharisees carefully watch Jesus to see if he would cure the man in violation of the prohibition against working on the Sabbath. Jesus asks the man to stand in front of them and says to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good on the sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

That episode helps us to pose the right question, I think. Using Rabbi Nedusner’s language, the question is: does this act honor the Sabbath? Does it imitate God? Does it celebrate creation?

Honoring the Sabbath does not demand that we do nothing, although our Sabbath may surely involve rest. It does require that we lock ourselves indoors, although we may choose to spend some special time at home with our familes. It does require that we keep the day holy, that we do something to celebrate creation.