top of page

Second Sunday After Pentecost - June 2, 2024

To all my fellow parents, and to the teachers: We’ve made it! Thanks be to God! School’s out for summer. We survived the month of May. Sometimes I think May is short for mayhem…

But we’re finally here, on the other side of Memorial Day. Time for the pool. Time for BBQs in the backyard. People are traveling. Life slows down. Even the liturgical season sounds kind of boring: We are in Ordinary Time. Far from actually being just ordinary, or common, it stems from the Latin word ordinalis and means numbered, ordered by numbers. Today we celebrate the second Sunday after Pentecost. And while there are no special days like Easter or Christmas to celebrate during this season, our lectionary, the scriptures we read on Sundays cover some of Jesus’ ministry’s most important highlights. Scenes like the sermon on the mount, or the miracle of the five loaves and two fish are read through the summer. These Gospel readings teach some of the most important lessons of our faith, they deepen and grow our faith. This makes the color green you see at the Altar and our green stoles appropriate for Ordinary Time because in nature green symbolizes growth and vitality.

Today Jesus talks about something I am most thankful for after the month of May we just had; he’s teaching us how and why to keep the Sabbath.

I think we can assume that the pharisees were watching Jesus very closely, were following him, namely in order to catch him committing a sin. Jesus has come to their attention because his teachings contradict the pharisees teachings. They dislike it when their authority is questioned and they do not care for this kind of troublemaker, this rebel with a cause. They are trying to catch him and disrepute him so badly that at the beginning of our reading today, they are almost literally, grasping at straws. Jesus’ disciples are plucking heads of grain on the Sabbath. They are not harvesting, they are not reaping with sickles, they are merely gleaning. Reaping on the Sabbath is prohibited by law. The pharisees interpret the law very narrowly, very stringent. Nonetheless, as their leader, Jesus must answer for his disciples. Like any good teacher at the time, Jesus answers by quoting scripture. So, he tells them about David and his followers who were hungry and ate bread that by law was only supposed to be eaten by the high priest. Yet David would continue to replace Saul as king with God’s blessing. In essence, Jesus tells the pharisees that their tradition, their interpretation of the law is too stringent and exceeds the intention, the spirit of the law. He says: “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.” Jesus is trying to teach them that the sabbath is for the sake of humankind, for the sake of life itself. Of course, hungry people must eat, not eating goes against the sanctity of life that this day was made for. Even when that means gleaning grain on the sabbath.

Obviously the pharisees do not agree. So, when Jesus enters the synagogue, they again watch him very closely, ready to pronounce him a sinner and rid themselves of this rebel. And Jesus knows this as well. Far from trying to avoid it, he addresses the pharisees himself. After he asks a man with a misshapen hand to come forward, he asks them: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? To save life or to kill? Helping people or leaving them helpless?” The pharisees have no answer for this that would make them look good. They don’t say a word. But they do not relent either. This willful turning away from the spirit of the sabbath law, their hearts hardened against humanity, against God’s creation, this provokes a reaction from Jesus we rarely get: anger. Jesus is angry that the pharisees are teaching people that the law is more important than they are. He is angry that what is meant to be life-giving has turned into stone and is used to oppress God’s people, is used to oppress life. We must always be vigilant about religious actions turning against God’s creation in our zeal. Because Jesus does not break the sabbath law, he fulfills it when he heals the withered hand. The fact that the pharisees stringent and wrong interpretation of this religious act of sabbath makes Jesus angry proofs to us that keeping the sabbath, and keeping it correctly, is of great importance to Christians.

And as much as we all need a break, that’s not really what keeping the sabbath is. It’s not about taking a break. It’s not about taking some much-needed time off. It’s not about rewarding yourself for a job well done. Or to recoup from the mayhem of May even. The rest of sabbath anticipates the actions needed for the sake of life. Sabbath for the sake of life restores us, so we can get back in there and figure out where life, where God’s creation, where God’s people need our help, need our support. Keeping it can assure that even during these divisive times we move forward with steadfast faith and love. Keeping the Sabbath is not optional.

I know, I just complained about the mayhem of May, I know we are all busy busy people that need a much-needed break. And I hope everyone has some great travel plans for this summer. But make sure that you include the sabbath in your overflowing schedules. Don’t pencil it in, use a colored marker. Highlight it. Because our schedules are so busy, taking a whole day for sabbath just isn’t always possible. But we can come up with creative ways to keep it throughout the week. A lunch date with a good friend counts in my book! Baking bread, going on a hike, taking a nap, praying the rosary, reading in the bath tub, exercising, meditation, gardening, going to bed early…any form of rest that is life giving to you, that reminds you of how precious life is and that it must always be honored in and for all people, anything that makes you come alive and ready to defend life, is keeping the Sabbath. And we must keep the Sabbath.