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Don’t Major in Minors

May 28, 2018

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath.” Mark 2: 27-28

In a Madam Secretary episode that aired a few weeks ago (“Phase Two”), Henry McCord returned to the War College to teach and learned that his proposal to establish an Ethics Department had been accepted. Henry competed with another qualified candidate for the Department Head position and won. The final scene of the episode is the Department’s first meeting. Henry’s agenda included some significant matters relating to the work of the Department, but the meeting immediately devolved into an argument about who is going to get the parking space that just opened up! It rang true for me because I work for an agency where parking spaces in the building are highly coveted.   Arguing over parking spaces and office size is majoring in minor issues.

The law Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai includes the Third Commandment to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy, and its corollary prohibition not to work on the Sabbath: “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all of your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work” (Deuteronomy 5:12-14a).[1]   Jesus points out in the gospel lesson that arguing over what constitutes “work” is pointless—it is majoring in minor issues.

This issue is illustrated by the current-day use of Shabbat elevators in Israel and in other areas with large Jewish populations. A Shabbat elevator automatically stops at every floor on the Sabbath to let people in and out without having to press any buttons. Pressing an elevator button is considered work prohibited by the Third Commandment. Some observant Jews argue that even using an elevator without pushing buttons violates Jewish law because when an elevator descends the person’s weight helps move the elevator down; ergo, the person is performing “work.” Other Jewish scholars argue that the automatic turning on and off of the lights in some elevators violates the Biblical prohibition against lighting a fire on the Sabbath—an exercise in majoring in minors.

These arguments make Jesus’ point: That the purpose of the commandment is not to argue over the definition of work: “One Sabbath day he was walking through a field of ripe grain. As his disciples made a path, they pulled off heads of grain. The Pharisees told on them to Jesus: ‘Look, your disciples are breaking Sabbath rules!’ Jesus said, ‘Really? Haven’t you ever read what David did when he was hungry, along with those who were with him? How he entered the sanctuary and ate fresh bread off the altar, with the Chief Priest Abiathar right there watching—holy bread that no one but priests were allowed to eat—and handed it out to his companions?’ Then Jesus said, ‘The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath.” (Mark 2: 23-27; The Message)

The purpose of the commandment is to ensure that we set aside a day to worship God and to rest. It is important that we set aside time for God—to meditate on him and to give our bodies and souls a rest. It is for our benefit, not God’s. Our physical and spiritual reserves are replenished when we take time to rest and to concentrate on God. But we have to eat, receive necessary medical attention and other emergency services on the Sabbath, so someone has to lift a finger! Someone needs to provide services in emergency rooms, hospitals, police stations, and fire stations.

Mark recounts another instance when Jesus warned not to get so tied up in the minutiae of rules that you forget the purpose of the rule: “Then he went back in the meeting place 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?’ No one said a word. He looked them in the eye, one after another, angry now, furious at their hard-nosed religion. He said to the man, ‘Hold out your hand.’ He held it out—it was as good as new! The Pharisees got out as fast as they could, sputtering about how they would join forces with Herod’s followers and ruin him” Mark 3:1-6.

The Pharisees’ objections weren’t about offending God. They were only trying to protect their own turf. They were jealous of Jesus’ abilities and were worried that he would take their power away from them.

It is important to remember what is important. As one preacher put it—to keep the main thing, the main thing. What is the main thing? In writing to the church in Corinth, which had largely forgotten what is important, Paul explained, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4: 5-6). The main point of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy is to put your work aside and spend time with God at least once a week. Work on your relationship with Jesus Christ. Arguing over whether pushing an elevator button in an elevator, or even taking an elevator on the Sabbath, is not the main thing.

Are you so wound up in man-made rules and regulations that you are forgetting what is important? If so, you are missing out on a relationship with the God of the universe. Have you become so embittered or unforgiving that there is no room in your soul for the Spirit? Have you so busied yourself with work, hobbies, activities, social engagements, vacations, recreation, and the pursuit of material things that you don’t have time to spend in the Word or in quiet meditation? If so, it is time to slow down and take stock of what is important in your life right now, and forever.   The late theologian R.C. Sproul had a column for years called “Right Now Counts Forever.” What you do today, tomorrow, and the next day counts for something to God.

Don’t major in minors. Start letting go of the negative habits and inconsequential matters in your life, and take time to communicate with God. He is listening.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for next Sunday are Deuteronomy 5: 12-15; Psalm 81: 1-10; 2 Corinthians 4: 5-12; Mark 2:23-28; Mark 3: 1-6.

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