We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
We are the clay jars — mortal vessels from the hands of God filled with earthly gifts, relying on eternal promises. We are clay, and God is God. Our gospel is after the same idea today: telling us once again how an extraordinary power is hidden away in all our days and belongs to God and does not come from us. Nor ever will. Sabbath is how we remember God is God and God is good.
Sabbath is a vanishing practice, the idea that one day a week you need to give everything you’re about, everything you’re up to, a rest. Not only your body need to rest, but your opinions, your worst and your best, need a rest. Sabbath is a Hebrew word that literally means rest. It also means stop. As in, you can’t rest unless you stop what you’re doing. A sabbath day is a day of coming full stop to rest from all your efforts, a day God commands you to keep holy, one day out of seven set aside as God’s day. And on that day, you’re not to feel the force of your own power. You’re called instead to behold the power of God.
The Pharisees in our gospel today may not look all that busy. They may look like they’re honoring the Sabbath by policing it. But if you look deeper, under the surface of this story, you’ll notice they’re working the world around them to their own ends. You’ll also notice how the disciples are hungry when they pluck the grain. And you’ll come to see that the man with the withered hand is in pain.
It’s difficult to rest when you’re hungry. And impossible when you’re in pain.
What Jesus is after in our gospel today is making sure that the hungry and the hurting might also know the joys of keeping the Sabbath, not just the restful gift of Sabbath, but the pleasure that comes with rest. And while Jesus may look a whole lot busier than Pharisees, the miracle he performs is practically effortless. He simply tells a man to stretch out his hand, and the man does.
Sabbath rest stretches out your withered soul, and restores you to the abiding grace of God. According to Jesus, the Sabbath is made for you, not the other way round. Scholar Amy Jill Levine says “the celebration of Shabbat should be one of joy, not of constraint.” It’s about stretching out and relaxing in the life of God.
So when Jesus defends the disciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath, and when Jesus heals a wounded man on the Sabbath, he is still keeping the Sabbath. He’s not suggesting it’s okay to work like madmen on the Sabbath. Instead, he’s telling you what the Sabbath is for: it is meant to heal you, to give you room enough to stretch out your withered life and rest in the work of God. And you need that healing one day in seven. Read more