Decades ago, I used to walk to 11:15 Sunday masses with my mother. St. Joseph’s Church was only about a 15-minute walk from our house in Middletown, New York. We would pass a few businesses on our travels, and all of them would be closed because it was Sunday. Back then, unless the business was a hospital or a pharmacy, most businesses were not open on the sabbath day. Ours would be a quiet, almost sacred walk past the weekday-noisy business establishments, including a laundromat, a car-repair shop, and a few other small enterprises.
On our way home from church, we would stop at a tiny what-we-now-call convenience store for a newspaper and penny candy for me. I really felt like a privileged character circumventing the Sunday sanctions and buying a luxury gumdrop or two on that holy day. The little store was rather dark inside and smelled of age, but as I pointed to the different candies I wanted, the elderly saleswoman would hunch down and gingerly scoop up my choices to put into a small brown paper bag.
During my growing-up years, the Sunday sanctions were relaxed. I remember my catechism teaching about avoiding servile work on the sabbath day. As a child, I was prone to a bit of scrupulosity as I tried to follow every letter of the law. I missed the spirit of the law. I would get caught up in the confusion of law for law’s sake versus law tempered with love.
In today’s liturgy, the Gospel of Luke (6:6-11) relates that the scribes and Pharisees were just looking for a way to defame and criticize Jesus for His merciful cure of a man’s withered hand on the sabbath. Jesus is God, so this was hardly “servile” work for God! Regardless, agendas were more the issue in that circumstance. Confrontation was the scribes’ and Pharisees’ goal, not the joy of the healing!
How about laws? Many laws exist for our protection. Why do we have that commandment about keeping holy the Lord’s day? Why did God rest after six days of creating the heavens, the things of earth, and human beings? Could it be that he knows we would need time to reflect, refresh, recoup, reboot, and reevaluate? If God rested on the seventh day, shouldn’t we imitate the Creator by devoting time to him? He is a lot wiser than we are!
It is sad to hear that not so many people attend Sunday religious services as in the past. Jesus still heals on the sabbath. What joy to receive the healing Eucharist and purposely put oneself in God’s presence. Certainly we can pray anywhere and anytime, but to come together with brothers and sisters in Christ and make the joyful noise of liturgical prayer together for about an hour is amazing grace! Our society is very materialistic and ego-oriented. Priorities must be periodically reviewed and reassessed.
Lord, thank you for loving us every day of our busy weeks.
Help us to be careful and mindful of Your precious presence in the world and
in our life’s decisions.
Give us wisdom in our priorities so that we can bring ourselves and others
closer to You. Amen.
The scripture passage is from The New American Bible, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990
Sharon Krause is a RENEW volunteer whose writing has appeared in several resources for small-group faith sharing. She is a wife, mother, and grandmother residing in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the years, she has served in many parish ministries.