The Sabbath Day: To Rest from our Labors

4th Century Roman Icon Christ Teaching

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.  (Luke 13:10-17)

Jesus answers the legal criticism with the principle, “The sabbath was made for people, not people made for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27). In the next chapter, Jesus is infuriated when the Pharisees watch to see whether he will heal on the sabbath (Mk 3:1-5). Jesus defiantly cures a man with a misshapen hand in front of the legal experts, who then plan to destroy Jesus (v. 60) for destroying the sabbath rest. But Jesus actually has honored the sabbath, which is a religious institution meant to honor the completion of God’s creative activity in Genesis, because Jesus has completed God’s creative work upon the man whom Jesus made whole.

Jesus’ radical reinterpretation of the Law serves to rehabilitate this symbol of God’s presence among the people. If the symbolic function of the sabbath is to celebrate God’s availability and power, then a sabbath which is a day of healing “works better” than a sabbath which is merely a day of rest from worldly activities. The emphasis is to be placed upon the God who is present through the symbol of the Law, and not upon the material prescriptions of the Law itself. (Marianne Sawicki, The Gospel in History, pp. 52-53)

Peace as Well-Being

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.   (Philippians 4:4-8; emphases not in original text)

It has been noted that St. Paul speaks fairly frequently about peace and reconciliation in his various epistles.  Surprisingly, therefore, not many scholars focus on Paul as an advocate for peace.  It certainly has been noted that peace – shalom – is a very important theological concept throughout the Old Testament.

Biblical Scholar Michael Gorman writes:

For our purposes, we will define shalom — a word that appears 238 times in the Bible (Old Testament) — rather generally. First, negatively, shalom is the resolution and cessation — and henceforth the absence — of chaos, conflict, oppression, and broken relations. Second, positively, shalom is the establishment, and henceforth the presence, of wholeness, reconciliation, goodness, justice, and the flourishing of creation — “physical and spiritual wellbeing.”   (Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission, Kindle  3735-3741)

If we think about shalom meaning “physical and spiritual wellbeing”, we come to understand that Christ healing people was not merely a medical miracle, it was giving the person the shalom God promises His people.  Too many Christians put way too much emphasis on the miracle/magic of Christ’s healing people, and fail to see that miracles are signs of God’s peace.  The healing is not the most important thing that happens.  Rather, the one who is healed participates in the shalom of God – participates not only in God’s promises, but participates in God!  The healing part of the miracle is the least significant part of what is being given and revealed.  Yet, Christians ignore what the miracle points to and continue to want only magic in their lives.  Consider the Gospel lesson of  Luke 13:10-17 –

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

The woman who is healed immediately praises God.  She is experiencing shalom, physical and spiritual well-being.  She is reconciled to God.  Her relationship with God is restored – something she could not experience in her diseased state.  Yes, diseased includes being dis-eased.  She could never have peace while in her suffering state.

The woman’s healing, her shalom, reveals the dis-ease of the synagogue ruler.  He is truly diseased.  He cannot rejoice in the woman’s healing or experience the peace of God.  He is incapable of seeing God in the miracle.  God gives shalom to those who are ready to receive it.  The woman was ready, but the synagogue ruler clearly was not.

Miracles are not given as some divine magic allowing a person to pursue their own interests.  A miracle of God restores a person to a proper relationship with God, it gives peace, shalom to the person.  It is the peace of God which we each should be seeking in our lives.  A miracle which does not bring a person into peace with God is a failed miracle.

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.   (Ephesians 4:1-6; emphases not in the original text)

The Sabbath is a Rest from Sin not from Love

According to Luke 13:10-17, Jesus confronted by a synagogue ruler regarding Sabbath laws, confronts the ruler with what the Sabbath is meant to be.

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Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.

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But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

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Jean Danielou notes Jesus taught a very particular understanding of Sabbath rules and rejected common ideas about the Sabbath held by Jewish leaders.

The other element in the Sabbath is the idea of rest (anapausis). Here also we find a primary typology in the Old Testament, consisting in a spiritualization of this idea of rest. In the prophets, and especially in Isaias, we find the statement repeated by the Fathers of the Church, that the true Sabbath, the true anapausis, is not to cease from physical work, but to cease from sinning. “The new moons and the Sabbaths and other festivals I will not abide, your assemblies are wicked…cease to do perversely, learn to do well…” (Is. 1:13-19). And this passage is the more important because, as we shall see presently, the teaching of Christ is its exact extension. This spiritualization of the idea of the Sabbath rest, which does not, obviously, exclude the idea of the actual practice of the Sabbath, is found again in Philo, transformed by its platonic setting, when he sees in the Sabbath the symbol of the soul “that rests in God and gives itself no more to any mortal work.”

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The Jews of the time of Christ, in their exaltation of the Sabbath, thought that God Himself was subject to it. We find such an idea expressed in the Book of Jubilees (II, 16). The word of Christ formally condemns the application to God of the Sabbath rest understood as idleness. In God there is no idleness; but His activity which, as St. Clement of Alexandria says, is identical with His love, is exercised without ceasing. And this is of great importance: the idleness, otium, of the Sabbath appears henceforth as a literal and inferior notion, giving room for seeking its spiritual meaning. The Fathers of the Church used this text to condemn the Sabbath rest by showing that it is not the law of the universe and that Christianity is the reality of which this idleness is the figure. Origen, using the same text of St. John, writes: “He shows by this that God does not cease to order the world on any Sabbath of this world. The true Sabbath, in which God will rest from all His works, will, therefore be the world to come. The working of Christ is seen to be the reality which comes to replace the figurative idleness of the Sabbath.”   (The Bible and the Liturgy, pp. 224 & 227)

 

Healing: Look for the Kingdom of God

The Gospel lesson of Luke 13:10-17 –     

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 

And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”  And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”  The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?  So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

Roman Catholic biblical educator Marielle Frigge comments:

“Healing and exorcism stories in the gospels function as signs pointing to the truth of Jesus’ claim that the kingdom of God is beginning now, in Jesus’ person and work. Because first century Jews believed that any kind of illness was caused by evil powers, every healing performed by Jesus indicated that God was indeed at work in him, overcoming the rule of evil and establishing the rule of power of God (kingdom of God ) in this world. These accounts bear witness that the power of God has truly entered the world in Jesus, thus pointing to him as Yahweh’s chosen anointed agent.” (Beginning Biblical Studies, p 160)

The Woman with Osteoporosis and the Nativity of Christ

In the Gospel lesson of Luke 13:10-17, our Lord Jesus Christ performs an act of mercy to a woman without demanding anything from her – neither repentance nor faith.  An opponent of Christ finds this as an appropriate occasion not to rejoice or give thanks to God, but rather to criticize the woman, though they carefully avoid criticizing Christ.  God shows mercy, the religious zealots criticize the recipient of God’s compassion.  How jealously we react to the blessings others receive, especially when we have judged that they aren’t worthy of such blessings.  Christ reminds us  to treat our fellow human beings better than we treat the animals that serve us or our pets.   St. Luke writes:

     

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”  And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”  The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?  So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

In the time of St Gregory Palamas (14th Century) this particular Gospel lesson was read as part of the pre-Nativity season on the 3rd Sunday before Christmas.  This is unlike the Slavic Orthodox tradition in which the same Gospel is read on the 26th Sunday after Pentecost whenever that occurs.  It is a good example of the variations we readily find in Orthodox Tradition, and also shows us that Orthodox liturgical tradition changes over time.  According to the Orthodox typikon of his day, by November 21 the Church is singing hymns of the Nativity of Christ – already proclaiming “Christ is born!” weeks before Christmas arrives.

So the footnotes in the collection of St. Gregory’s sermons explains:

“Note that the theme of the third Sunday before Christmas is an extension of the first and second. By this time, however, the Christmas fast had already begun (on 15 November); the singing of the Christmas Canon, ‘Christ is born, glorify Him’, would have been introduced on the feast of the Entry of the Mother of God into the Holy of Holies (21 November); and also the Kontakion of the forefeast, ‘Today the Virgin gives birth to the Pre-eternal Word’, would have been sung from the leave taking of the feast of the Entry (that is, from 25 November) onwards. But it is in the Gospel reading for the third Sunday before Christmas (Luke 13:10-17) that, in reference to the Crippled Woman who was Healed by Christ, we heard the words, ‘daughter of Abraham’, which refer to Christ’s own lineage, ‘according to the flesh’, and signal the beginning of the theme of the forefeast for Christmas: the commemoration of Christ’s ancestors and, by extension, all the righteous of the Old Dispensation.” ( The Homilies, p 633)

When Religious Leadership Gets It Wrong

 In the Gospel according to St. Luke (13:10-17) our Lord Jesus, while in a synagogue, shows mercy to a woman who had been afflicted with a disease for 18 years.  A leader of the synagogue, failing to see the hand of God in the miracle, passive-aggressively criticizes the congregation for the Sabbath day miracle.  No doubt he felt he couldn’t criticize Jesus directly, after all, Jesus had just performed a miracle!  The congregation apparently at first must have sided with Jesus’ adversaries, or were unsure how to react to such a sign in the synagogue.  For they only rejoice after Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the leadership.  And the adversaries of Christ feel no shame about their opposition to Jesus when they see the miracle.  They only feel shame when Jesus points out to them that they show more compassion to their beasts of burden than to a fellow human being.   Their hypocrisy is obvious: they show mercy on the Sabbath to animals and know this is in their power and right to do.   Jesus reveals He has power to show mercy as well, and that is why it is right for Him to do an act of mercy on the Sabbath, and for the people to seek such an act of mercy when they come to the synagogue.

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath.  And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up.  But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.”  And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, “There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day.”  The Lord then answered him and said, “Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it?  So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound-think of it-for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

St. Nikolai Velimirovic commenting on the Gospel lesson, himself indignant at the story, points out that it is almost as if a demon entered into the synagogue leader to cause him to react so caustically to Christ’s miracle.

 “And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath Day, and said unto the people: ‘There are six days in which men ought to work; in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath Day.’

These are the words of a wicked son of darkness. It is as though Satan, leaving the twisted woman, had entered into him. Thus speaks self-love accompanied by its inseparable companions: envy and anger. Christ healed, but the ruler of the synagogue resorted to vilification. Christ delivered a human life from its satanic prison, and this other reviled. Christ drove the evil spirit out of the sick woman, and this other was furious that He had driven the evil spirit out through one door and not another! Christ opened heaven to men and revealed the living God, and this other was angry at Christ’s opening heaven in the morning and not in the evening! Christ went with a lamp into the prison to the captives, and this other rebuked Him for not having left doing this till another day! See the frightful and vicious touchiness of self-love!

This self-centered ruler did not dare to rebuke Christ, and so he rebuked the people, although his tongue framed it the other way round. How were the people guilty in this? If anyone was at fault for this good work, this straightened woman was. But how was this poor woman guilty? She did not run after Christ and beg Him to heal her. On the contrary, Christ called her to Him and gave her perfect healing, far beyond any hope or expectation she had in the synagogue. It is, then, clear that if anyone was guilty of all this, that person was Christ. The rule of the synagogue did not, though, dare to look Christ in the eye and say: ‘You are guilty’, but turned his barbs on the people and rebuked them. Is there any hypocrisy more evident and more vile? And the Lord calls him a hypocrite:

The Lord then answered him, and said: ‘Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath Day?’

The Lord knows the hearts of men, and He knew that the ruler of the synagogue meant the reprimand for Him, even though his tongue directed it at the people.” (Homilies, p 281)