Proper 16, Luke 13:10-17;
Under Jewish law you are not supposed to do certain kinds of work on the Sabbath. There are actually 39 categories of work and over a hundred subcategories of things which you are to either abstain from or be restricted in doing. Taking care of your animals is acceptable, feeding and watering them; milking them if appropriate. You are not allowed to run after them if they escape or go through a broken fence. But you can do things to help them if the situation is critical or urgent for their survival. Under life threatening conditions for man or animal you are allowed to break the rules of Sabbath if necessary. But the distinctions are clear you cannot break the Sabbath rules to help someone for a chronic condition, such as the woman in our story. This is why the synagogue leader who witnesses what Jesus has done cries fowl.
“You are breaking the rules, the Law actually. There is no need for urgency in helping this person. The hunched over lady could come back tomorrow without a difference in her health or wellbeing.” After all she has been this way for eighteen years. This leader is correct by all accounts except for maybe one. This leader is applying a rule of illness or malady.
What I find interesting is that Jesus reframes this problem as he often does. We now look at it in a way that seems especially appropriate in his day in age. The writer of our Gospel tells us that the woman’s problem is a result of an unclean spirit, not an ailment. With this theory, which would be perfectly acceptable at the time, this unclean spirit in some real way is holding this lady captive. She is not free to be herself. Freeing her from captivity is the appropriate thing to do under the Law even if it is on the Sabbath.
Sabbath by definition means to rest or probably more accurately to cease from work. The Sabbath is also a festive day, not only for relaxation but for delight; a day to seek enjoyment in the world around you, a day to see and learn about God in his creation. This is truly what Sunday is supposed to be for Christians. Each Sunday is a little Easter. This day of rest wasn’t only for the Jewish people because the enjoyment of this day cannot come at another person’s or even another animal’s expense. You were expected to give your servants the day off; you are to give your animals the day off; no carrying loads, or doing any kind of work. You should unbind your animals take off their bits or bridals and if possible giving them free access to their food and water. Other expectations: you were to wear nicer clothing, eat better foods and be with family. What we find is that Jesus didn’t only heal this woman he freed her so that she can experience the joys of the Sabbath again. Even if we look through our modern lenses and believe that she wasn’t consumed by a spirit; Jesus by healing her deformity frees this woman and gives her the capability to participate and follow the Sabbath Law. Jesus is not saying Sabbath is wrong. He is saying that the Sabbath is no reason not to help another human.
So how do we keep the Sabbath? I’m not sure that keeping Sabbath needs to be as prescriptive as it is in the Jewish faith, but I do think we need to take time to remove ourselves from the busyness around us. When I was younger, we would go to church. The afternoon was rather relaxed, and we would have a nice family dinner frequently with my grandmother. Many of us today do not have such rituals on Sundays anymore. Isn’t this in part what the political rhetoric suggests when calling us to return to an earlier time, when life was simpler. Whether this rhetoric is right or wrong, to a large degree we already have this capability regardless of who will be president or who the president currently is. Earlier times didn’t have cell phones or cable TV. Sunday dinner wasn’t prepackaged food heated in the microwave. We sat around a common table to eat. There were no sports games to distract our attention. At least when I was growing up schools and television didn’t have Sunday games. The first regularly scheduled Sunday Night Football games didn’t start until 1986. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with these things. But we do need to allow ourselves to rest from the world around us; to focus on God, family, and prayer. ///
For so many people their jobs are all consuming. How many of us actually take a day off each week to remove ourselves completely from that work? I know people who take a Sabbath day in which they do not schedule events, they putter around the house doing what relaxes them or feeds them spiritually; gardening, cooking or sewing for example. It is a time where they do not have to rush about but they can gather their thoughts.
I know from personal experience that this type of Sabbath is next to impossible with a family. In active families there are always pressures to clean the house, do the laundry, pay bills, and go to the grocery, among numerous other duties. But as a family it is not impossible to attempt to have one day a week, even if it is a partial day, that the routine becomes more relaxed, in which we allow our minds to be stimulated by other things from within us. Read a book out loud with the whole family, play games, all gather in the kitchen to cook. In this manner you, not the mass produced media, are in control of what comes into your world. It is possible, at least to some degree, to bring our lives back to a simpler time even if it is just one day or a half a day a week.
There is great power in taking control of our lives. In which we give space for God to be a more active part of it. I’m not saying that the example I used is the best or only way to make Sabbath time. For others it could be going out on a boat fishing, where again you can regulate the uncontrolled world from entering in.
You may be surprised how refreshing it is to let go of the busyness and constant bombardment of information. The control we gain is not of power but an awareness of God around us. This gives us space to step away and become more aware of how we fit into this world that often seems to take every bit of energy we have. It gives our minds and bodies a chance to recuperate from the hard week past in which we can be healed both physically and spiritually from the assault we faced each day. It allows us to go into the new week more refreshed with God at the center. Isn’t that what we truly want; to recognize that God is not only with us but that his is the center of our lives?