Give It a Rest — August 21, 2016
In the name of God who made and knows us; the Savior who redeems and befriends us; and the Spirit who enlightens and sustains us. Amen.
He’s in hot water again, this time with the leader of the synagogue. Jesus dared to do something wonderful at the “wrong time,” well, the wrong time by the rules of Hebrew religious tradition. While he is teaching on the Sabbath, a woman who is bent over, unable to stand up, crosses his path. Jesus heals her and when he is called on the carpet for doing so he reminds his accuser that she is a daughter of Abraham who has been robbed of her rights as a member of the covenant people. Her physical position is a metaphor for her social position—deemed expendable, undervalued because of both her gender and her handicap. In spite of the wonder of this healing, the leader of the synagogue is indignant because Jesus has “worked” on the Sabbath. We might cut the guy some slack since he is simply defending the tradition of keeping rest on a day that was considered sacred. Why couldn’t Jesus just wait it out and cure her later on without going against the Torah?
The Sabbath was, of course, a holy day of rest and Jewish Law lists 39 kinds of work that are not permitted on it. The underlying principle is that we are not masters over the world and that for one day a week we should just live, enjoy God’s creation, and not try to control the world.
This healing of the woman was especially appropriate because he did heal her on the Sabbath. Jesus is calling for new understandings about the observance of Sabbath and, in general, of all religious traditions. Jesus wants religious leaders and communities to take into account real people with actual needs in the moment—not when it is necessarily convenient. He is speaking out against empty religious rituals that disregard people’s deep need for a relationship with a loving, compassionate God. His words mirror those of the Isaiah reading which makes the distinction between authentic and fake religiousness.
Yet we know human nature. Whenever someone tries to introduce a radically different perspective to a group of people who have been formed by an old and long standing way of doing things, that person is going to hit a brick wall. Rules are easy to make but it is hard for some people who worship the rules to understand when they need to be broken. In both the church and society we have witnessed thoughtful occasions when gutsy people have expressed their opposition to rules that are just blatantly unjust by doing exactly what Jesus did—breaking them.
The Gospel is full of such violations: eating with the wrong crowd, touching the unclean, turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple, healing this suffering crippled woman, challenging the legal order when justice has been disregarded and mercy is desperately needed. Jesus was demonstrating that the essence of Sabbath time is not in what it forbids, but in what it requires—which is rest. That woman had been doubled over for eighteen years. She was constrained by her condition. It made life miserable for her. She was tired and washed out. She needed a rest and Jesus gave it to her. Jesus gave her Sabbath.
When I was a kid, Sunday was Sabbath time whether you wanted it or not. There were no stores or gas stations open. No malls. No internet or cell phones. We really did take a day of rest. We all need Sabbath time, a time and place to escape the craziness of our lives and pay attention to things we should hold most important. Sabbath time is especially valuable because it helps us recognize beauty in a climate that can often be ugly—be it beauty in worship, in art or music, in a good meal, in friend and family, in the diversity of people or in the wonder of all creation around us. Who here today doesn’t need that kind of a Sabbath?
I think this Gospel story begs the question, “What needs rest in your lives?” What may be keeping you down, wearing you out? How have you been undervalued because you are different? Maybe you just need to give it all a rest. Claim your place as a child of God. Stop, take a deep breath and just enjoy doing absolutely nothing for a while. It is the Sabbath after all.
So now I think I’ll give you a rest—and sit down.