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Lord of the Sabbath: The Bread of the Presence and the Healings and Rest of Jesus

by Brant Pitre July 05, 2019 0 Comments



 

 
Transcript:

Jesus’ observance of the Sabbath was slightly different than a modern Jew, because in Jesus’ day, unlike in modern Judaism, what did you have? You did not just have the synagogue, you also had a temple. And although it’s often forgotten by many modern scholars and modern Christians, for an ancient Jew, the Sabbath day wasn’t just a day of rest, it wasn’t just a day of worship, it was a day of a very specific sacrifice. Just like the Tamid daily worship had a special sacrifice of a lamb and bread and wine tied to it, so too the Sabbath had a special sacrifice that had to be offered every Saturday, every seventh day of the week. And guess what that sacrifice was? There’s only one sacrifice unique to the Sabbath. It was a sacrifice known as “the bread of the presence”. Does that sound familiar? The bread of the presence? The bread of the presence is sometimes called the “showbread”. You might have heard of the showbread if you hadn’t heard of the bread of the presence, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the Broadway, or musicals, or anything like that. The showbread is just a pretty bad translation for this Hebrew bread called the lechem haPanim, the bread of the presence, that was offered as a sacrifice of the Sabbath day.

Look at this tote here from Leviticus. I know you already have Leviticus memorized already. It’s your favorite devotional book to read, but let’s read it anyways just for the sake of refreshing our memories. Leviticus 24 says:

“And you shall take fine flour…

This is talking to Aaron the priest

…and bake twelve cakes of it…

One for each of the tribes.

…And you shall set them in two rows, six in a row, upon the table of pure gold. 

Notice that Catholics, pure gold. God doesn’t mind his Temple being adorned with gold.

Every sabbath day Aaron shall set it in order before the Lord continually [tamid] on behalf of the people of Israel as a covenant for ever [Berit Olam]. And it shall be for Aaron and his sons, and they shall eat it in a holy place, since it is for him a most holy portion out of the offerings by fire to the Lord, a perpetual due.” (Leviticus 24:5-8).

So what Leviticus is saying here is that in addition to Sabbath rest and Sabbath worship, every seventh day the priest would offer a special sacrifice of bread, the bread of the presence, which was also accompanied by wine.  This bread of the presence is special because it’s the only sacrifice that is called an everlasting covenant. Anybody heard those words? Have you heard those words everlasting covenant? When was the last time you may have heard those words?  It might have been at mass lately? The institution of the bread of the presence is a pre-figuration of what Jesus himself is going to do at the Last Supper whenever he pours out the bread and wine of the Eucharist and says “this is the blood of the new covenant”, the new and everlasting covenant that will be made in his sacrifice.

Alright, so that’s the Old Testament background of the Sabbath. It wasn’t just a day of worship, it’s a day of sacrifice; but does Jesus fulfill it as well? How does Jesus fulfill the Sabbath in his public ministry and in his passion and death? Well, I would suggest three things, three ways he fulfills the Sabbath.

First and Foremost, number one, have you ever noticed how many healings Jesus does on the Sabbath? Why does he perform all of these healings on the Sabbath? It’s one of the things that gets him in trouble with the Jewish authorities. In John 5, he says to them, after healing a man who is ill, who is paralyzed, on the Sabbath day, they say “Why is that you’re healing on the Sabbath day? Six days are for laboring but not this day.” And he says, “I am working on the Sabbath and my Father is working on the Sabbath.” What’s he doing? Drawing a parallel between his act of restoring creation on the Sabbath day and his father’s act of sustaining creation on the Sabbath day. So the first way he begins to show his fulfillment of the Sabbath is by continually healing on the Sabbath. And how did the Jews respond to that? Does anyone remember? They said what? “Somebody give me a rock, give me a rock, this guy is blaspheming, because by saying that he could work on the Sabbath like the Father, he’s making himself equal to God.” So they plotted to kill him.

The second way I would suggest that Jesus is fulfilling the Sabbath feast is at the Last supper. Because in the last Supper, what do you have other than an offering of the new bread and wine of the presence? That’s really why Jesus can take bread and say “this is my body”, and take the wine and say “this is my blood”. Sometimes scholars will say, “How could Jesus have expected his Jewish disciples to get their brains around the idea of bread and wine containing, and in a real way becoming his real presence?” Well, one way is that as Jews they would have known that every Sabbath day, what would be offered in the Temple? The bread of the presence. So it wouldn’t take much to move from the bread of the presence in the Old Testament to the bread of the presence in the New Testament and realize that what was just a shadow in the old covenant (and in the old temple), has now become a reality.

Oh, also as a side note, the ancient Jewish Mishnah, which is a compilation of all these tradition, says that if the bread of the presence, if the Friday fell on a feast day, if the Sabbath fell during a festive week, like Passover for example, guess when the priests were supposed to prepare the bread of the presence? Thursday night, because they couldn’t be working on Friday night. And of course, when is Jesus crucified? During Passover week. So, in the evening when he is offering the bread and wine at the Last Supper, guess what the priests are doing in the Temple? Getting the bread and wine of the presence ready for the Sabbath feast the next day. Coincidence? I think not. I think Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in that upper room and I think that Jesus in that upper room was not simply revealing himself as the new Passover (the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world), but as the new bread and wine of the presence, who would be offered the next day on Calvary and on the cross. So that’s the second way I would suggest Jesus fulfills the Sabbath.

A third way is perhaps the most explicit because, as we all know, Jesus was crucified on a Friday afternoon, and one of the reasons they had to get his body in the tomb so quickly, without even having a chance to prepare it and anoint it was what? Because the Sabbath was coming. Look at the quote here from the Gospel of Luke. It says:

Then [Joseph of Arimathe’a] took [Jesus’ body] down and wrapped it in a linen shroud, and laid him in a rock-hewn tomb, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation [paraskeue]…

Preparation for what? The Sabbath, exactly. That’s what the Jews called Friday. They called it “paraskeue”, which means preparation day. Every Friday was just called the preparation day because they were just getting ready for Sabbath that night, at sunset. So it says:

It was the day of Preparation  and the sabbath was beginning.

Now on the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment, but then, what happens? On the first day of the week, at early dawn, they go out to bring the spices and bring the anointing oils in order to prepare and take care of the body of Jesus. So, what happens there? Jesus is crucified on Friday afternoon. Joseph of Arimathe’a takes his body down from the cross and gets it into the tomb and what does Jesus do for Shabbat? What does Jesus do from Friday evening all the way until Sunday morning? He rests. He rests from his labor; he rests from his act of redeeming an offering sacrifice for the world. In a certain sense, he keeps the Sabbath perfectly on Holy Saturday. He images God perfectly. God rested on the seventh day and what does Jesus say in the Gospel of John? “I’m the son and a son can only do what he sees his Father doing.” So on this Shabbat, on this Sabbath, the son rests.



Brant Pitre
Brant Pitre

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