The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. That is why the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath."
It would be easy to consider this important teaching of Jesus through the common lens of either/or: "I prefer the Sabbath;" or "I prefer man."
Preferring the Sabbath I will value tradition, rules, rituals and customs. Preferring "man," I will opt for the needs, longings and desires of human beings. The discussion often looks at the extremes: the "conservative" who prefers the Sabbath doesn't care about critical human needs; the "liberal" ignores religious traditions altogether, assuring himself that he is there in a crisis for his fellow woman and man. It appears through this polarized vision that Jesus prefers "man" over the Sabbath.
However, if we begin with the understanding that Jesus, the Son of Man, is the man of this statement, the conversation may be less polarized. The Sabbath was made for Jesus Christ; he is "lord even of the Sabbath."
The Christian religion is founded on that principle. The Lord of the Sabbath has fulfilled every expectation of the Old Testament. Christianity is not a reform of the Jewish religion as if certain rules, customs or understandings can be discarded. As Jesus says in Matthew 5: 17
Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.
Rather than a reform, Christianity must be a natural fulfillment and satisfaction of Jewish laws, prophecies and traditional customs. Jewish ways are remembered and honored as fond memories; they often provide relevant clues to our identity. With this vision, Mary is the flower of her race, and there is no rupture between Judah and the fruit of her womb.
Because of this organic relation between the two religions, I have found enormous satisfaction in reading Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, especially his books: The Sabbath; The Prophets, and Man is not Alone. Because he is not hostile toward Christianity despite the long tragic history of anti-Semitism, because he regards human nature with the benevolence of our Creator (Old Testament) God, his teaching only enriches my practice of faith in Jesus Christ.
As Christianity rapidly spread throughout the known world and eventually to the whole world, as it welcomed people of many different religious customs and sensibilities, Christians have been tempted to forget our Jewish roots. Doing so we are apt to adopt some truly alien customs -- slavery, divorce, abortion, individualism -- which should otherwise find no place in our churches. In some places Christians even adopted (or retained) the anti-Semitism of their neighbors.
"The Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath." By preferring Sunday over Saturday we have not abandoned the Sabbath. We must still consecrate one day of the week to the love of God, even in a secular society which ignores religious customs; and in a capitalistic economy which, like The Blob, exploits every human weakness as it oozes over, under, around and through every rational and moral barrier.
The Lord of the Sabbath teaches us that our secular sciences and our capitalist economy must serve "man," rather than be served by him. The human baby is not a product to be manufactured, the human worker is not a widget to be designed, packaged, bought and sold; the soldier is not a weapon to be hurled at one's enemies; the hospital patient is not a commodity traded by insurance companies and exploited by pharmaceuticals.
The Lord of the Sabbath, the only son of the "Old Testament God," knows and treasures our prehistoric roots and teaches every generation and every nation what it means to be human.