According to the Jewish tradition, the Sabbath is intended as a delight. People are supposed to avoid disturbing topics in conversation, and focus on whatever is good and beautiful. In a mental state of sentimentality, I accept this and respond by not seeking out difficult subjects while resting.
This perspective, though, is somewhat escapist and fully impossible. I live with people, real people, who struggle seven days a week! Sometimes I resent the fact that I come face to face with people who are struggling with poverty on the day that I am resting. I am jealous of other community members who can go home and be insulated from the work of loving our neighbors.
Every Thursday, the day of my Sabbath, several women come to our home as volunteers to receive material help. They are sitting at our dining table when I come down to eat breakfast. Sharon, Esther, Lisa, Deb, Stacy…I love these women. I want to count them as friends. But I hesitate to spend time with them on the Sabbath day that I have been given. I am afraid of the emotional exhaustion that comes from listening to them and caring for them. I remember, with pain, the ways I have not cared for them this week. I feel powerless. In my heart, I want to avoid them, because their pain confronts me with my own limitations and weakness.
And then, I see Jesus. A story in the book of Mark says that Jesus “…went back to the synagogue where he found a man with a crippled hand. The Pharisees had their eyes on Jesus to see if he would heal him, hoping to catch him in a Sabbath infraction. He said to the man with the crippled hand, “Stand here where we can see you”. Then he spoke to the people: “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or doing evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?” Jesus was indignant. No one said a word.
Jesus silences my turmoil, too. It seems as if he was actually looking for, rather than avoiding, this man with the crippled hand on the Sabbath. Not only this, but Jesus called attention to him and presented him to the whole synagogue. Did Jesus have the choice of not seeing the poor on a day of rest and celebration? I doubt it. Jesus actively chose to go to the man who suffered; he chose to link their lives together.
Earlier in the day, we find Jesus’ disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. Jesus says to the criticizing Pharisees, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were in need of food? He entered the house of God…and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priest to eat, and he gave some to his companions”. Could it be that Jesus and his disciples were actually hungry that Sabbath day? I believe they were poor, in need of food and mercy.
On this Sabbath day, can I embrace my own poverty and that of my friends who are in our kitchen? Can I know and not reject the fact that I do not have enough strength to love fully the people I desire to love? Can I recognize myself as a small and powerless child who is loved in the tender hands of God?
I believe I can be released from feelings of guilt for not being emotionally able to give to someone else today. I pray to receive the mercy of God that comes to me freely in my day of weakness, when I step back from providing for myself and others. I know that if I cannot receive God’s mercy, I will have nothing to give. Jesus, may I be the one with the crippled hand who is simply found by You on the Sabbath and asked to hold out my hand. Would the bread of your Presence found in the precious women around the table heal and nourish me? May I see these weak ones not as those who impose on my “day of delight” but companions in our common day of weakness. Let me move towards them, if only in my heart at first, and link my day to theirs.