8/25/2019 The text is Luke 13: 10-17.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. And as our Jewish brothers and sisters have wished for one another for thousands of years; ‘Shabbat Shalom’, a ‘peaceful Sabbath’.
This morning we find a synagogue leader doing what they frequently did when confronted with Jesus doing something contrary to the Commandments, the Torah; Jewish religious Law. Let’s see, how many Commandments do we find in the Bible?…eight, nine?
There are the ten most well-known Commandments, those given to Moses on the tablets on Mount Sinai, the ones we all learned about in Sunday School.
But in truth, the Mitzvot, the entire canon of the Hebrew Law consists of…wait for it…613 rules for living in accordance with God’s will for the people. All of them are found in the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, the Torah; Hebrew for ‘the teaching’.
As you might imagine these rules for maintaining pious Jewish practice cover nearly every aspect of daily life. A good number of them speak to rituals to be observed in the Temple and thus apply mainly to the priestly class. Many more however, set in place rules for everyday living, and most of these are rather obvious, and direct God’s people into behaviors that benefit themselves as well as the larger community. For example, Deut. 15, verse 7 admonishes not to withhold charity from the poor. This is a perfectly understandable godly mandate. Exodus 34, verse 26 however, starts to lean a bit more toward the obscure; it states not to cook meat and milk together. And in Deut. 22, verse 11, the people are told not to wear ‘shaatnez’, described as a cloth woven of wool and linen together. Rabbinical scholars even today wrestle to come to terms over these two, and many other examples within the 613. I can only imagine the consternation of the Pharisees if they had to deal with the modern-day blending of polyester and say, spandex!
And just as we’re starting to come to terms with the 613 laws in the Torah, we discover the Talmud, the 5th century compilation of additional, rabbinical Jewish traditions. Supplemental to the Biblical Laws found in the Torah, the Talmud adds 24 chapters listing the various regulations a faithful Jew was required to observe on the Sabbath, or ‘Shabbat’. These weren’t found in Hebrew scripture, they were added by Rabbis following the Diaspora, the dispersion of the Jewish people after the destruction of the Temple. On the Sabbath, according to the Talmud, one couldn’t travel more than 2,000 amoth, or about three-quarters of a mile from one’s house.
You were not allowed to carry anything that weighed more than a dried fig. That pretty much prohibits even having a cell phone in your pocket. Taking a bath was forbidden on the Sabbath; bath water might splash onto the floor and that would be considered washing it. Women were forbidden to look in a mirror; they might notice a gray hair and pull it out.
But as it pertains to this morning’s reading, we need to revisit the Torah, the original set of laws that faithful Jews in Jesus’ time were required to observe. The synagogue leader was outraged when Jesus disregarded one of them; the healing of the stooped over woman on the Sabbath. In Exodus 20, verse 11 we read; God’s faithful people are ‘not to do prohibited labor on the seventh day’. In Lutheran terms; ‘remember the Sabbath to keep it holy’. Jews in Jesus’ time were expected to revere the Sabbath day, as are Christ-followers today. They, and we are to keep the day ‘holy’. My thesaurus provides several synonyms for ‘holy’; sacred, consecrated, pious, hallowed. But in the original Greek, the word we translate as ‘holy’ is hágios. The core meaning is ‘different’ or ‘unlike’. It’s use throughout the gospels centers on this fundamental understanding as ‘different’…different from the world. And this is understood to therefore be ‘like’…the Lord. Hagios implies that something is different, set-apart from the world, because it is like the Lord. Something holy is said to be distinct from the world because it is ‘special’ to God.
So, God mandates Sabbath observation as something that is holy and ‘special’ to God. It is to be set aside for rest and worship. But this ‘holy’ observance should not be burdensome. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells the Pharisees; ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath’. The Sabbath is a time for respite from the work that is done the other six days of the week. Even God rested after the creation of the world! We are commanded to take a pause from our labors to express our thanks for all that God has provided. But we are not to be bound by strict, unwavering interpretation of what is, and what is not to be done on this day of rest.
Jesus leaves no doubt as to what is right and proper to do at all times, Sabbath observation notwithstanding. Holiness, hágios, is characterized as striving to emulate God’s ways. The gospels contain many more instances of Jesus healing on the Sabbath; it’s the Christ-like thing to do, for God hates when God’s people are suffering.
By healing the bent over woman, among other holy day actions, Jesus rather diminished the importance Sabbath rules in first century Israel, while at the same time expanding on its deeper meaning. He made it perfectly clear to the leader of the synagogue and the people, and by extension, to us that the day of rest was established by God for God’s people, and that the people were not to be subjugated by an overall strict observance of Shabbat. Jesus wasn’t about to cease his Godly actions just because a day for rest existed. He eased suffering whenever he came upon it. Jesus didn’t have a published schedule for healing. The sign on his office door didn’t state: ‘Sight restored between nine and five, Mondays and Wednesdays, only’. ‘Leprosy cured, evenings, by appointment’. Jesus didn’t place an ad in the Galilee Times: ‘Want to be raised from the dead, call my office weekdays and we’ll fit you in if we have a cancellation’. No, Christ the ‘Great Physician’ felt anguish whenever he came upon any affliction, and was determined to act to relieve suffering, no matter the day or time. It seems the lesson here is that we also, are to be Christ-like in our actions every day. We may be upset that school sports have commandeered Sundays, that nearly all retail outlets are open, and that the Christian Sabbath seems to have lost its meaning, intent, and significance. We will always need to take the bread and the wine, to hear the Gospel, and share in the fellowship of Christian community but I fear the Sabbath conflict has been lost…secularism has won the battle, and perhaps the war.
So, let us strive to honor Christ’s revealed meaning of the Sabbath by being ‘special’ to God every day! The Commandments, be they the Top 10 or the wide-ranging 613, are valid every day, and as God’s people and followers of His Son, we are bound to try as best we can to live into them.
Speaking only for myself, I don’t think God will be terribly upset if I mix clothing fibers. (I’m pretty certain my shirt is a blend of cotton and polyester). And I’ve attempted to lift my wife’s pocketbook; I can attest that it weighs substantially more than a fig. (God only knows the contents within it). And if we neglect Sabbath worship occasionally, Lutheran doctrine teaches that we are nonetheless saved by our faith in Christ; through God’s unmerited Grace.
But, if we are a people professing to live faithful lives of holiness; if we are to show to the world that, as children of God, we strive to be ‘special’ to the Father, we must strive to be Christ-like every day; all week long, all month long, all the time, and always. But let’s face it, sometimes it’s not easy to live holy lives fifteen minutes after leaving church on Sunday. Often, we tend to drift back into the impious ways of daily living. We are, by our very nature, broken sinners. And observers would be hard-pressed to define us as ‘holy’; but we keep trying. It’s probably okay with God if we have more than a fig in our pocket, and we will likely be forgiven if we drink milk and eat meat at the same meal. It’s the striving toward holy lives that Christ wants for us. It’s essential that we keep trying for holiness.
Not just on the Sabbath, but every day. The 613 laws for attaining holiness notwithstanding, if you have the opportunity this afternoon to help someone stand straight and see the world clearly, please do so. If you find yourself in a position to release anyone from any kind of bondage, don’t hesitate to offer them relief. As the eucharist sets us free from our bondage to sin, we are reminded that God’s ultimate Law is expressed through the Gospel of Christ; God’s love, mercy, and grace. What better way to express our gratitude for the freedom we have been blessed with, than to strive to free others from whatever binds them?
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, forgive us if we presume to reflect the holiness of Christ through our righteous endeavors on the sabbath. We do so in thanksgiving for your Gospel. Strengthen and encourage us in our endeavors to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world. And the people of God say…Amen!
May you experience a peaceful Sabbath…Shabbat Shalom!