It’s facepalm-worthy that I even have to say this. But we live in a crazy religious time, folks.
A Hebrew Roots friend organizes groups of Messianics and Hebrew Roots folks to take shifts at Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a Christian organization that packages food and sends it to poor kids around the world.
It’s good work for the Lord.
On a recent shift, one Hebrew Roots man backed out of attending, citing the shift fell on the Sabbath:
It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath - Mat 12:12 – however, the context is rescuing someone that needed help and not going to look for opportunities to do good. We should be trying to set an example to other Christians on how we do keep the Sabbath.
My friend asked my advice on the matter.
I wrote my response first in a private email, but I’d like to amplify it here, to you, the fine Kineti blog readers, and articulate to you and convince you why it’s kosher to volunteer at Feed My Starving Children on Shabbat.
I think it's righteous for us to do good on Shabbat. I think it honors God even more than resting. Messiah explicitly ruled on this,
“If you have a sheep that falls in a pit on Shabbat, which of you won’t take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore, what is permitted on Shabbat is to do good.”
But the debated issue here is smaller in scope: is it permissible to seek out good works on Shabbat? I mean, couldn’t we volunteer another day?
The man’s answer: we should rest, and not go looking for opportunities for good works, on Shabbat. Otherwise, we might as well go around town this Saturday, and find some pit-trapped sheep, so to speak.
Should we avoid seeking good works on the Sabbath, and therefore, avoid Shabbat shifts at FMSC? And would this be a good witness to the Christian world? Here’s what I think:
- The Scripture doesn't specify any limitation for good works on Shabbat. The Scripture doesn't not limit how or when good works can be done on Shabbat. This man is creating a limitation that the text doesn't explicitly set. If the doing-good-on-Shabbat is limited only to certain contexts, wouldn't Torah or Messiah have stated that limitation?
- The premise that the Scriptures don’t support seeking out good works is unproven. His premise is that the Scriptures only allow for rescuing, emergency-type good works, and doesn’t allow for people seeking out good works on Shabbat. But this is not conclusive. One might argue, for example, that Messiah sought out good works on Shabbat when he healed people: there was no emergency then, he could have waited. But he didn’t, and still performed the good works right then on Shabbat.
- Opting out of good works on Shabbat favors ritual observance over good works. Resting on Shabbat over helping people is favoring ritual observance over good works. I fundamentally disagree with this stance, because Scripture almost always favors the inverse: good works over ritual observance. For example, Messiah chided the religious teachers for tithing the mint and cumin while neglecting mercy and justice.
- The example set for the Christian world would be negative. The example he wishes to set is this: don't seek to help people because it’s Shabbat. I believe this is what Dr. Michael Brown calls "majoring on the minors" -- amplifying smaller matters and losing sight of the weightier matters. I believe this is a bad example to show to Christians. Wouldn't a better example be, "We honor God's Shabbat by helping feed starving kids"?
- The example set for the unbelieving world would be negative. “Just look at those so-called ‘Messianics’”, I can hear a snide atheist say, “so caught up in their stupid beliefs, they can’t be bothered to help people that are dirt poor and starving. Why? Because it falls on a certain day of the week. Idiots! And this is why religion is bad…”
- The premise focuses on minutia. The premise is this: doing good on Sabbath is lawful only within the context of rescuing, and not seeking out good works on Shabbat. Dear Lord! Isn’t it unhealthy for Messiah’s disciples to get caught up in the sticky muck of minutia within subjective interpretations where the Scripture remains silent?
Gosh. I'd rather err on the side of helping people.
Or do we believe God will, on judgment day, ask, "You packed meals for starving African kids: On. My. Sabbath. How dare you!" Come on. It's more likely God would chide us for secluding ourselves in our homes, meticulously observing Sabbath rest while ignoring the poor.
The last point is a stickler among modern Messianic Jews and Hebrew Roots folks: minutia. It’s something worthy of addressing in a blog post by itself. We get caught up in minutia, and we’re worse off for it. When it happens, our faith becomes a complex set of elaborate rulings, we’re disconnected from the real world, and we look silly. “Hey, don’t eat that bread! It was cooked in an oven that may have been manufactured on Shabbat!”
That’s not what I signed up for, folks.
For these reasons, fine blog readers, I believe it’s righteous to volunteer at FMSC on Shabbat. I believe it honors God and sanctifies God’s Sabbath more than resting.
A broader principle can be derived from all this: it is good and right for Yeshua’s disciples to seek doing good on Shabbat. If you go around town on Shabbat, looking for the modern equivalent of sheep to raise from pits, you’re justified in doing so.