Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year C
August 21, 2022
For what was the Sabbath made?
If you grew up close to the bible,
If you have award ribbons for Sunday School attendance,
I’m betting you could answer this question.
For what was the Sabbath made?
You could answer this with a direct quote from Jesus
who says plainly:
“The Sabbath was made for humankind
and not humankind for the Sabbath.”
In his short three years of ministry,
Jesus has to make this point many times.
Early in his ministry, Jesus is confronted as the disciples
are plucking grain on the Sabbath just to get some food to eat.
Jesus responds shrewdly, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?”
Later in his ministry he’s asked this question again
after he heals a man on the Sabbath.
Then he makes his point personal.
He asks his opponent… “if your own child falls into a well on the sabbath day, would you not immediately work to pull him out?”
Today’s story involves a Jewish woman, a daughter of Abraham, She is bent over and crippled, Until Jesus frees her body, healing her, on the Sabbath day.
This subject of the Sabbath comes up many times, letting us know
that in Jesus’ day the ancient commandment —
to keep the Sabbath Day holy
had grown and grown into a litigious matter.
“There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day,” the synagogue leader chides Jesus.
The leader is correct in this – he is literally quoting the Torah, the part of Hebrew Scripture we know as the Old Testament. He references the teaching in both Exodus and Deuteronomy which says: Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you.
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the Lord your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.
You’ll recognize this law as one of the Ten Commandments.
For years, I taught confirmation to middle school kids in the Episcopal Church. This was no come when you want to class.
We had homework and quizzes.
We had them memorize parts of the liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer,
Our students could Recite psalm 23 from memory,
and the Ten Commandments.
I’ll never forget one 7th grade girl coming to class all ready.
Her father had her use the KJV of the bible…. Which is much harder….
But the seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou.
You can see that I remain impressed by this child!
Is it really surprising then, that Jesus is criticized for healing on the sabbath, the traditional a day of rest?
Or is it more surprising that when the synagogue leader calls him out,
Jesus responds, “You hypocrites!”
Our bible can be so confusing.
We hear the stories of Jesus knowing the whole story
Knowing he is the Christ, the son of God.
Yet, Jesus was to the people of his day, first and foremost a rabbi.
Rabbis interpret scripture and teach the faith.
Jesus is a particularly outspoken rabbi, bent on reforming the religion.
Like the prophets before him, he spoke out on the ways
religious life can become meaningless and distorted.
Here Jesus is not just calling out the hypocrisy of those who preach
Keep the Sabbath day Holy, in one breath,
and go do whatever they want in the next.
Jesus reteaching those at the synagogue, that
religious practices are not ends in themselves.
God did not made the Sabbath holy to use it as a power over humankind
God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
The Sabbath as a commandment is a gift to us.
All of Torah, the law, to our Jewish friends now,
to Jesus and people of the first century, all of it
is seen as a gift from God.
It is people who corrupt the way law is used.
The whole purpose of religious observances like sabbath-keeping
is to build in us healthy practices—so that our lives are made richer.
In fact, if a religious observance, a spiritual practice,
obstructs us from realizing God’s hope for humankind–
that we all have life and have it abundantly–then we have misused it.
We have not only misused it,
We have contradicted God’s own purpose.
Jesus’ heals and provokes on the sabbath so that he can have this very conversation with those of his day.
The people in the synagogue were not surprised to be having this conversation once again.
They were not surprised to hear Jesus cry out: “You hypocrites!
Luke tells us the entire crowd was rejoicing
at all the wonderful things Jesus was doing.
The crowd celebrates the healing—they understood his actions not as breaking the law but fulfilling God’s hope in giving the law.
Keeping the Sabbath calls not just for a weekly time of restoration
but a whole life cycle of living in the spirit of the sabbath keeping.
Biblically, every seventh year is a sabbath year;
and every seventh sabbath year (plus one) is a Jubilee year of restoration—when humankind is to allow the land to rest,
to free enslaved people and cancel others’ debts.
Using the Sabbath to bind people in any other way is perverse.
For what was the Sabbath made?
The sabbath was made for humankind…. Not humankind for the Sabbath. But not just us…
although Jesus is arguing a specific misuse when he stops there,
he knew the law, that God desires sabbath for all who labor, ox, donkey, livestock as that is the point of his argument.
God desires that we thrive in this life: all of creation is meant to flourish.
Flourishing involves times for restoration,
for experiencing the goodness of creation,
and for coming to know the goodness of God.
When I was a kid, not much was open on Sundays.
We ate, family all together at home, not served in a restaurant.
We played with neighbors, sat talking for hours.
Even the poorest among us, took the day off.
Stores gave their employees the day off, even grocery stores were mostly closed, maybe opening after church.
Sad to think how our American capitalism has changed our thinking of what’s necessary.
Jesus was not railing against how you keep Sabbath,
Jesus was objecting to religion’s self-righteous distortions.
The leader was saying this woman can wait to be healed,
Jesus said, what better day to liberate her from suffering.
The practice of sabbath-keeping offers thanks to a life-giving God.
Jesus calling us to recover the beauty and promise of sabbath-keeping,
and of all our spiritual practices.
You may think I’m preaching to the choir.
We’re here, on Sunday, Polly.
Yes, you are.
I hope you hear the good news today and take it with you:
I’ll make this as culturally relevant as I can…
Sabbath, no matter where or when you keep it: It’s like a snow day.
All the plans you made — Are put aside.
You’ve been given a gift—you need spend no money on it
you’ll likely make no money either. Your time is freed up.
Thank God for all of it.
Thank God for this life.
Life is God’s gift to us, and our response is our gift to God.