Text: Luke 13: 10-17
My boys have a paper route and as a result of that they are required to go and collect from their customers every three weeks. Normally, we go out and do this collection on a Saturday afternoon. However, on occasion this doesn’t work out and we need to go out on a Sunday. I can recall one particular Sunday when this happened and one of our customers made the comment, “So you got the kids working on a Sunday do you?”
Now this neighbour doesn’t know I’m a minister. But running through my head as he made this comment was, “Yup, I’m a minister and my kids are working on Sunday. I wonder what he would say if knew that I was a minister?”
Many people, inside and outside, of the church have an opinion about Sunday Shopping. To many Christians Sunday shopping isn’t to be tolerated as Sunday is the Sabbath. It is supposed to be a day of rest. That we are allowed to engage in commerce on the Lord’s Day just isn’t right. Of course before Sunday Shopping became a thing there were still businesses open on Sunday. Restaurants and gas stations to name a few, but it’s been the last twenty to thirty years that has seen all the barriers to a day of rest be evaporated.
Sabbath is important. Rest is important. But does that day of rest need to be Sunday? Different people will have different ideas about this and many of them are philosophical as much as they might be steeped in religion. What is important to me is that people do take the time to rest. That people do engage in the practice of Sabbath.
I think at this point it is important to explore just what Sabbath is. To try to understand it from the perspective of the people in days of Jesus. What is important to remember is that throughout his ministry Jesus did things on the day of Sabbath that annoyed and frustrated the temple establishment.
Sabbath was intended to be a day of enjoyment and rest. In the Old Testament we see two distinctions about Sabbath. In Exodus 20 Sabbath is grounded in creation. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God … 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.”
In Deuteronomy 5 we find that the Sabbath is rooted in redemption. “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.” Sound familiar so far? Deuteronomy continues, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, where we find the Ten Commandments, both agree that the Sabbath is holy and ordained by God. However, they disagree about why the Sabbath was established. Exodus is linking Sabbath to creation and Deuteronomy is linking Sabbath to redemption. Why the difference and what can we learn from it?
When we consider Sabbath from the perspective of creation we sometimes think that God rested because God was tired. However, this is not how we should think of things. What God was doing is the same thing Adam and Eve were asked to do on their full day of existence: enjoy creation. The Sabbath when considered this way is a reminder to enjoy the ‘good’ creation that God has provided.
Sabbath considered from the perspective of redemption reminds us that God has saved us from evil, that God has forgiven us and loves us no matter what. Sabbath from this perspective is taking time to honour God for restoring us into proper relationship with him.
Both Exodus and Deuteronomy agree: No work on the Sabbath. What they disagree on is why. Over time the emphasis was placed more heavily on the idea that people should not work on the Sabbath. The reasons why the Sabbath existed were less important than the rules and regulations created to ensure the Sabbath was protected.
So along comes Jesus on that Sabbath day. He is teaching in the synagogue, which didn’t qualify as work. He sees a woman who is bent over and crippled by an ailment. He declares to her that she is free of her infirmity, lays hands on her and she is healed. She gives thanks to God and begins life anew.
However, the synagogue leader is upset because Jesus healed her on the Sabbath! How dare Jesus restore someone by offering the redeeming power of God’s love and thus allow her to enjoy God’s creation as all those around her were already doing. In his act of healing and compassion Jesus embodies both creation and redemption.
The religious establishment of the day had created so many barriers and rules that they were unable to offer God’s grace to people. God’s grace which was the catalyst for creating all those rules in the first place. How easy it is to lose sight of what is really important.
Now don’t get me wrong, rules have their place. We as Presbyterians know that. We love our rules and good order. We have a process for how certain things should get done, in the hope that things are clear and understandable.
However, it is important for us to ensure that our rules do not get in the way of offering God’s grace, love and mercy. I can recall sitting in my Polity course during my time at Knox College. The professor, a minister in Toronto, was talking about the law and grace. He said something to the effect of “In all cases we hope that God’s grace prevails and that the courts of the church are able to act in that accord. However, when push comes to shove the law prevails.” In some ways it was a sad statement, knowing that bureaucratic maneuvering could prevent God’s grace from being done. A sobering reminder to ensure that our interpretations of God’s grace do not become so enmeshed in legalism that we know longer recognize God working in our presence.
When we look at this gospel lesson from Luke we might be quick to criticize the synagogue leader. He is indignant because Jesus healed on the Sabbath. In Jesus’ day the barrier to helping people was the law. However, today we might say it is personal comfort and the use of our time, in addition to our rules.
I wonder if the healing we witness here call us towards the pastoral and prophetic nature of being a Christian? This story is placed between two parables one begins “What is the kingdom of God like?” and the other “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God?” Our story about this woman and the healing she received anticipates what the Kingdom of God should look like. What the reign of God is all about.
Enjoying God’s good creation and giving thanks to our creator for his redemptive love. When considered within the larger context of Luke’s gospel this story goes from being a story about a hypocritical law abiding synagogue leader. Instead it fleshes out God’s understanding of what the kingdom should look like and what we can do about ushering in that kingdom.
How we read and respond to this story today says a lot about us. Do we focus on law and tradition or God’s grace? Both are important, but how do we hold them in balance? Do we favour one over the other? Or worse do we abandon both to our own selfish desires and ambitions? The story of this healing offers us as the church an example of who and what we should be in the world around us.
I pray that we can walk with faith, upholding our traditions on one side while being able to ensure God’s love is accessible to all people on the other. Amen.