As we approach the weekend, Fr Bob encourages us to embrace the virtue of leisure…
“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath”
Matthew 12: 8
Charlie Brown says toLucy as they sit together peacably on the grass, would you mind if I ask you a question? Sure go ahead, says Lucy blithely. I mean, even a really personal question? No problem, says Lucye, just try me. Well if you are quite sure I won’t upset you. Go on, fire away, anything you like. – If you are really sure. Lucy, do you pray before you go to bed, or after you get up in the morning? At this Lucy lets out an elemental howl of despair to make you stick your fingers in your ears and Charlie is bowled over head over heels in the approved Peanuts fashion. He’s running yet!
So would you mind if I ask you a question? do you have a rule of life? perhaps like Charlie I’ve touched a raw nerve. Not a question you ever dare ask anyone. The Pharisees in this gospel story certainly do have a rule of life, they even micro-manage it. Micro managers are the sort of chaps that don’t get re-elected Prior a second time. But if we are sniffy about the Pharisees and let ourselves off the hook at their expense, we may miss the point. To have a rule of life to guide your thoughts and actions is a beautiful gift. The Pharisees in their wisdom grew a hedge about the law so as not to risk the slippery slope leading into danger, so their loyalty and obedience to Torah was safe from harm.
You see I take St Matthew’s anti-Pharisee polemic (Matthew 12: 1-8) with a large pinch of salt. Elsewhere in the New Testament Saul of Tarsus, St Paul, boasts of his Pharisee roots, doesn’t he?
Should we detect the hermeneutic of continuity? Sorry, wherever did I get that expression from? I mean the current of life that flows from the old Israel to the new. Our Sunday is the fulfilment of the sabbath, already the gift of the Creator.* In Christ’s Passover Sunday fulfils the spiritual truth of the Jewish sabbath and announces humanity’s eternal rest in God. For worship under the law prefigured the mystery of Christ, as St Thomas Aquinas puts it. He says it is a law of nature inscribed on the human heart to worship the Creator by keeping holy the Lord’s day. We keep it holy by worship, but says Geoffrey Preston, even more fundamentally by observing its compelling instruction to be leisurely. When we were younger we knew it was Sunday because there was no washing on the line. We had still to do our maths homework but maths is not servile work but a spiritual activity, isn’t it? so your mother told you and mother knows best, and please let there be raspberries and cream for tea.
So do let our Lord be Lord of the sabbath still. If we neglect the rule of leisure what we find is that leisure creeps up silently behind us and takes its illicit revenges. Why every hardworking white western male you know has given in to the secret temptation to take a moral holiday on his computer. The sure protection against that is to make in our lives a generous leisurely space to enjoy the garden and art and music and play and family and friendship, sheer unashamed blissful delight in all the created things that in the beginning of the Bible story, the Creator revelled in and found them very good.
* See the Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 2175.