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Reflection on the Gospel, Week before August 25 2013

Luke 13:10-17

 10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.

What I am Learning:

This is the second of three stories where Jesus brings healing from God on a sabbath.

Now, a sabbath is a good thing. In fact, a sabbath is a great thing for human beings. Read a great quote on sabbath:

To the biblical mind, however, labor is the means toward an end, and the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not the for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life. Man is not a beast of burden, and the Sabbath is not for the purpose of enhancing the efficiency of his work. “Last in creation, first intention,” the Sabbath is “the end of the creation of heaven and earth.”

Rabbi Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951) 14

The sabbath is made for the enjoyment of the life God has given.

But life is full of challenges and anxieties. Most of the Hebrew people before Jesus' time lived in subsistence farms. There was much work to do and very little margin for error. There was no Costco or grocery store to go to. The family made its own food, clothing, footwear and wine. Their survival was always in question.

So naturally everyone was tempted to push to seven-days-per-week operations. The teachers and leaders of the people had to be ever more firm and detailed in rule-making in their insistence on the sabbath - for the good of the people and the whole community.

But such lists can themselves become a burden to the imagination and the need of one context becomes a distraction to another.

Jesus ministry began with this reading of Isaiah.

Luke 4:16-19

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’

The last line, "the year of the Lord's favor" is a reference to the year of Jubilee. In Leviticus 25, the idea was to expand the sabbath from one day per week, to one year every seven. This would give the land, animals, and people a year of rest. In seven times seven years, 49 years, property was to be restored to those who lost it and the community would have a special celebration of peace and well being.

It isn't that the leaders of the synagogue had too high a vision of the sabbath, it was that he had missed the sabbatical year that Jesus was enacting. Jesus whole ministry can be seen as him enacting a sabbath year of healing of persons and the whole society so that everyone shared in the goodness and abundance of God's creation.

The woman has not only been bent over, a physical ailment of great discomfort and pain. Because of her ailment she would be cut off from her normal role in the community. Many would assume that she had been punished by God.

After the woman is healed, she gave thanks to God, not Jesus. Jesus had asked others to give thanks where it was due, but he didn't need to ask her - she just knew what to do.

When the synagogue leader challenges Jesus in public, Jesus responds by reminding everyone that this woman is a daughter of Abraham and that it was not God that had afflicted her but rather the forces of evil.

Was not this healing by God appropriate on a sabbath day during a sabbath year?, he asked.

I think this story forces us to ask what rules and habits and attitudes we as people and the church as a whole have that keep us from seeing the life-valuing love of God for ourselves, others and the society as a whole.

We now live in a 24/7/365 economy that calls for ever-increasing productivity from people at ever-decreasing wages.

I wonder if today Jesus might seek to straighten us out from our bondage to work, bent over our computer screens and smart phones and give us a healing sabbath to enjoy life?

I wonder if today Jesus might join the synagogue leader if encouraging us enjoy a day unburdened from our drive for productivity?