Sabbath: The Donkey In A Ditch Principle

Exodus 20:8-11 says, {8} “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. {9} Six days you shall labor and do all your work, {10} but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. {11} For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” 

I’m writing this blog with my upcoming mission trip to New Orleans, Louisiana and my vacation afterward in mind. So, I guess you could say I’m focused on the Sabbath and what it might mean for my life and our lives together. The fourth commandment makes it pretty clear that God prioritized the Sabbath and so should we. But what is the Sabbath and how do we honor it in the way God intends? The Sabbath is a day of the week, originally Saturday, that is to be set apart for the purpose of God. One of the requirements that God gives to Moses is that no work should be done on this day. The rationale for this is that when God created the heavens and the earth, God rested on the seventh day. 

We see throughout the New Testament evidence that the Jewish people had very stringent laws governing what could and could not be done on the Sabbath. In fact, much of their groaning against Jesus was because he disregarded their extra-biblical Sabbath laws. For some reason the Jewish rabbis latched on to the principle that no “work” should be done on the Sabbath and set about the task of defining work rather than focusing on keeping the Sabbath holy. Work was labeled by the religious leaders and Pharisees as “anything that a person broke into a sweat to accomplish.” 

Jesus upends the spiritual focus of the religious leaders and Pharisees regarding their extra-biblical sabbatical laws in Luke 14:1-6. Jesus went to eat at the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees. The passage said that while Jesus was there “they watched him closely.” They were trying to find reasons to discredit Jesus. Then the passage introduces another character on to the scene when it says, “and behold there was a certain man before him who had dropsy.” Dropsy is what we in modern times call edema. Edema is the abnormal accumulation of fluid in certain tissues within the body. The accumulation can be anywhere under the skin but is usually in dependent areas such as the legs or the lungs. 

Whether or not the Pharisees were trying to set Jesus up by putting this guy with dropsy in front of him, the point is that Jesus took the man and healed him and then let him leave. Then Jesus said, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, would not immediately pull him out on Sabbath day?” Jesus likened the healing of the man with dropsy to pulling an animal out of a well. If the animal isn’t pulled out of the well, it will surely die. If saving the life of an animal is something worth “breaking a sweat over” on the Sabbath, how much more should we care for a person!!! Bringing healing to a person from any condition that diminishes their quality of life is not only permissible on the Sabbath but honors the Sabbath in the direct way God intends. God intends that good shall be done in His name and in His honor on the Sabbath as a way of setting the day apart for the purposes of God. 

The Donkey in a Ditch Principle states that doing good on the Sabbath honors God’s holy intentions for our lives. Unfortunately, we often times give what I’d like to refer to as Donkey in the Ditch excuses when it comes to honoring the Sabbath and keeping it holy. Taking a child to a soccer tournament is not a “Donkey in a Ditch.” Sleeping in is not a “Donkey in a Ditch.” Cleaning, organizing, and doing laundry is not a “Donkey in a Ditch”; and the list could go on. I no longer believe that Sabbath is confined to a particular day of the week (Romans 14:5-5). This being said, as a Christian person we are still asked to “assemble together” (Hebrews 10:25) and to practice regular Sabbath in our lives. 

The Sabbath is a day of rest. It is a day we should refrain from doing work. One day a week we are to completely focus on God’s intentions for our lives. This is one reason why communal worship was created. To start one’s Sabbath with prayer, with praise, and with biblically inspired teaching is a way to prioritize God’s purposes for our lives.  Just because we are supposed to rest on the Sabbath doesn’t mean we rest from doing good. John Wesley is quoted to have said that we should, “Do all the good we can. By all the means we can. In all the ways we can. In all the places we can. At all the time we can. To all the people we can. As long as we ever can.” Doing good in this way fulfills God’s purposes not only for the Sabbath but every other day as well!

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