Tuesday, January 19, 2010

St. Fabian (c. 250)

Fabian was a Roman layman who came into the city from his farm one day as clergy and people were preparing to elect a new pope. Eusebius, a Church historian, says a dove flew in and settled on the head of Fabian. This sign united the votes of clergy and laity and he was chosen unanimously. He led the Church for 14 years and died a martyr’s death during the persecution of Decius in 250 AD. St. Cyprian wrote to his successor that Fabian was an “incomparable” man whose glory in death matched the holiness and purity of his life. In the catacombs of St. Callistus, the stone that covered Fabian’s grave may still be seen, broken into four pieces, bearing the Greek words, “Fabian, bishop, martyr.”

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark (2:23-28)

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and as His disciples walked along, they began to pick some ears of corn. The Pharisees said to Him, "Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?" He answered, "Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions." Then he said to them, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath."

Lord even of the Sabbath
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

One of the most distinctive practices of the Jewish people was its observance of the Sabbath. Egypt had its many festivals, but not the regular Sabbath. The Sabbath was a linchpin of Israel’s celebration of God as the Lord of the world, which is his creation. There is an inspired expression of this in the very first chapter of the Bible. In that inaugural text, the creation of the whole world is presented as a “work” distinctive of God alone - for the one God alone did all of this work. There were no other gods. The inspired author presents this pictorially as having been done over a working week, at the end of which God rests with his good work done. The Sabbath thus has its roots not only in explicit divine law (as in the Decalogue) but, obscurely, in the very ways of God. By working and by then resting after the manner of the Sabbath, man is acting as God wishes him to act, and also, in some sense, as God himself acts. In this way man fulfils his own nature, for as the first chapter of Genesis shows, God made man in his own image. While he is subject to God, he is at the same time God-like, and is therefore called to act and work in imitation of God. The observance of the Sabbath was critical in the life of the nation as expressing its calling to act always in a way that pleases God. Thus it was that the Sabbath was one of the Ten Commandments. It came from God, and Moses and the prophets laid it down as fundamental - and this character it retains to the present day in the Jewish and Christian religions. To forget the Sabbath is to commence the crumbling of one’s faith in revealed religion, and life in accord with it. I say all this simply to show that by observing the Sabbath, the chosen people of God in practical and ongoing effect recognized God as their Lord. But in our Gospel passage today, we have a remarkable statement uttered in the presence of the religious professionals of the nation - the Pharisees. Jesus declares, when challenged by them over the manner of Sabbath observance he allows among his disciples, that he, the man Jesus whom they behold before them, is the very Lord of the Sabbath.

No other individual in the history of the nation made such a statement. Moses received the Ten Commandments of God with its solemn stipulation of the Sabbath. It is unthinkable that he would declare himself to be the Lord of the Sabbath. No prophet had made any such pretension. The prophets insisted on the observance of the Sabbath, and condemned its distortions. Some condemned its neglect while others condemned an observance of it that neglected justice and mercy. But they were all subjects and servants of the Sabbath - which meant that they were subjects and servants of Yahweh, the Lord of the Sabbath. In the encounter today, initiated by the Pharisees who saw Christ’s disciples picking ears of corn, our Lord first of all shows his respect for the Scriptures and for the true tradition of the chosen people. “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions” (Mark 2:23-28). Our Lord is saying that the observance and teaching of the Pharisees in this matter was an innovation for the worse. Their received rules departed from the understanding of the holy men of old and from what the Scriptures plainly suggested. But then he calmly introduces a breathtaking addition. There is the hint of not just one, but two points in his statement. He is the Lord (kurios), and he is Lord even/also (kai) of the Sabbath. That is to say, our Lord seems to be making an assertion of his general lordship, while also applying it to the case at hand, his lordship even/also of the Sabbath. We observe here and elsewhere our Lord’s assured sense of full sovereignty in all his teaching. One often notices that a dog barks because it is scared. Our Lord did not “bark” his personal claims out with aggression. They were uttered with a kingly calm, with an imperturbable strength, as in our passage today. He, Jesus Christ, is Lord - Lord of lords and King of kings.

But let us apply our Lord’s teaching to our own lives, and in particular to our observance of the Sabbath. Is Jesus the Lord of the Sabbath as we observe it? Do we make the Sunday the Lord’s Day? Or do we take a very perfunctory attitude to Sunday, being content with a somewhat routine attendance at Sunday worship, and little else? Perhaps we live out the Sunday basically in much the same way as we do every other day of the week. Let us resolve to keep holy the Sabbath day, the day we rest in the Lord, worshipping him as a people and gathering our energies so as to serve him diligently by our daily work. It is thus that we shall please God.

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