Sermon at St Mary Hadlow Trinity 13 – Sabbath –21st August 2016
Isaiah 58 vv 9b – E Service, not oppression, lead to the Lord’s blessing
Luke 13 vv 10 – 17 Jesus heals a crippled woman on the Sabbath
- Introduction. Why, oh why did Jesus not say to the crippled woman, “I can do something for your condition. Today is the Sabbath so come and see me tomorrow morning .”? One day longer, after being crippled for 18 years, wouldn’t make much difference. In our consideration of the Ten Commandments in the Study Group we have looked at the first 6 commandments. We deferred a consideration of adultery to next month, in favour of the meeting in July about the work on the Church tower. We have though considered the fourth commandment on Sabbath keeping. This morning I would like to share with you some of our thinking under the four headings of Covenant, Creation, Christ and Compassion.
- Covenant. Firstly ‘covenant’. I have stressed throughout our studies that the Ten Commandments should be seen in the context of God’s covenant with his people. In the giving of the Ten Commandments at Horeb, God says to Moses, “If you obey me fully and keep my commandments, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Ex 19 v5). Later, shortly before the Israelites enter the Promised Land, Moses re-iterates the Ten Commandments and in introducing them, reminds them of the covenant that God made with them at Horeb (Deut 5 v 2). The Ten Commandments are therefore about relationships, about how God’s chosen people can live a happy life in relationship with God and with one another in the Promised Land. This is the context of all the commandments including the 4th commandment that we are considering today. This is why the Commandments can be summarised in, ‘Love God. Love your neighbour.’ The problem in first century Judaism was that with the detailed written and oral interpretations the Jewish law and, in particular, that relating to Sabbath observance, had become a burden rather than a joyful release. I say ‘joyful release’ because it was given in the wilderness period following the arduous slavery in Egypt. What a joy it must have been that everyone, rich and poor, master and servant would have one day a week with no work. Jesus needed to challenge publicly the burdensome way the law was being interpreted in his day. That is why he says on another occasion, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2 v 27).
- Creation. Secondly ‘Creation’. In the form of the Commandment in Exodus, the basis of the Commandment is God’s pattern of creation given in Genesis, of 6 days of creation activity, followed by God taking a day of rest. If we no, longer believe in the days of creation as literal 24 hour periods, does this negate the commandment? By no means! On a number of occasions Jesus healed on the Sabbath. One such occasion was the healing of a crippled man at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. Part of Jesus’ response to the challenge by some Jews is very revealing. He says, “My Father is always at work to this very day and I too am working.” (John 5 v 17). I believe that in effect, he is saying, “We are living in the 7th day of creation. My Father isn’t sitting back, arms folded, doing nothing. The 7th day of creation is a more relaxed period when, after 6 long periods of creative activity, he maintains that which he has created.” The idea of that creation did not take place in 6 literal 24 hour periods is not new; it is to be found in the early fathers of the Church, it is to be found in Jesus’ own teaching. Nonetheless God has given us a pattern of work and rest that we disregard at our peril. Some people suffer from ‘burn out’ because they have lost that pattern; work is all consuming. Others suffer from false illusions of the way to happiness being found in endless leisure with no work. This may be true of the life to come but not of this life. As Paul said in a sermon last month, “We don’t cease to be Christians because we have retired from our full-time paid occupations!”
- Christ. Covenant, Creation and thirdly Christ. Jesus needed to make clear who he was, the Messiah or, to use for the Hebrew and Aramaic, the Greek word, the Christ; both meaning God’s anointed one, God’s promised Saviour. His works of healing in particular, revealed Jesus’ supreme, divine, nature as God’s own Son. Whilst not all were done on a public occasion, the weekly Sabbath gathering at a synagogue was a natural occasion to perform such a healing miracle. There is another reason why Jesus didn’t tell the crippled woman to come back the next day for a private appointment. Hand-in-hand with a personal vindication of who Jesus was, was his proclamation that the Kingdom of God was being inaugurated. This was often misunderstood because many people were looking for a political king. They had lived under Assyrian, Greek and Roman rule for many centuries. They longed for their own Davidic king to free them from foreign domination in the same way that many in the United Kingdom expressed their view recently that they wanted to be free from the dictats of Brussels and the path towards being one state in the Federal States of Europe. But Jesus had come to proclaim a different type of kingdom, a spiritual kingdom that was good news for the poor, the crippled, and the oppressed, in a close experience of the love of God, a true development of the covenant relationship between God and his people and between one another, a kingdom that would embrace all nations. Jesus needed therefore to proclaim publicly in word and deed his own nature and the coming of his kingdom. The healing of the crippled woman fits that pattern.
- Compassion. Covenant, creation, Christ and last, but not least, compassion. Jesus was not just using a crippled woman to further his cause, he had a real sense of compassion for the woman who had been crippled for 18 years. I found 12 occasions in the gospels where it is said of Jesus that he had compassion for people – the sick and the hungry especially. He wanted people to be free of their burdens, whether sickness, oppression or burdensome laws. Jesus rebutted the challenge of the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath by saying to them, “You happily on the Sabbath release your ox or donkey from its stall to allow it to have a drink, ought not I on the Sabbath to have released this woman of her burden that she has endured these 18 long years (Luke 13 v 15, 16)”. Incidentally the biblical references are all contained in the written version of my sermons, available of Paul’s Facebook. If you want this one before Paul’s returns from holiday, just ask me.
- Conclusion. So what conclusions do we draw from all this? How do we as Christians in a multifaith society apply the Biblical teaching and in particular Jesus’ teaching and actions relating to the Sabbath, in our own day? As Christians our Sabbath is on Sunday, the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Within the structure of creation, all God’s children should enjoy a balanced life, with time for recreation as well as time for work. A Jew continues to observe the Sabbath, from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday, closely related to the creation account in Genesis 1, where it says of each period of creation, ‘There was evening and morning – the third, fourth or whatever, day’ (Gen 1 v13 etc). A Muslim recognises Friday as the day of rest and prayers in the mosque. They and we are all observing the weekly day of rest, consecrated to God, with prayer and worship to strengthen that covenant relationship with God. For us, as Christians let Sunday be a day which is different to other days, a day when our first priority is worship of the living God, a day on which we avoid the regular work of the week, but also one on which as far as possible we avoid others having to work. With a little planning we can generally avoid shopping on a Sunday. We have seen the law of Sunday observance considerably relaxed in the lifetime of most of us, but let us as Christians be careful to observe the principles and priorities. May Sunday be a special and joyful day!
1438 words Christopher Miles
For further reading:
Matthew 12 vv 12 -19 On the Sabbath Jesus heals a man with a shrivelled hand.
Mark 2 vv 23 – 28 The disciples eat grain on the Sabbath, whilst walking through a field of corn.
Acts 20 v 7 At Troas Paul and disciples meet for worship on the first day of the week
I Corinthians 16 vv 1, 2 Money to be set aside on the first day of the week as a collection for the poor in Jerusalem.
Hebrews 4 The Sabbath rest related to the failure of the Israelites who came out of Egypt to enter the Promised Land as warning of the danger of our failing to enter into heaven.