Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But 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.” But 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? And 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?” When 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.
Paul Kadrmas, August 21, 2016
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
A lot of us deal with some pretty demanding expectations, put on us by others or by ourselves. I have friends who have the weight of the world on their shoulders, feeling like they have to take care of everything. And that’s perfect because I fit right in with that sort of thing. I guess we derive a lot of the meaning for our lives from our accomplishments and living up to the expectations. That’s why our Sabbath rest is so important. Our need to rest and recover something deeper and richer is what brought a lot of us together this morning. It’s what Pastor Renee has been doing the past few weeks on Sabbatical, which is a special kind of extended Sabbath rest.
Today’s Gospel is about Sabbath and what God means for it in our lives.
It’s tempting to look at this text and think the leader of the synagogue is a total jerk, bent on following stupid rules that don’t make any sense.
But first of all, let’s remember that the woman was there because the synagogue was an important faith community that probably took care of her in many ways. That includes the leader of the synagogue who likely was a man of deep conviction. A man who was defending — to the best of his ability and understanding — the Law given by God to His people through Moses and passed down through the generations in scripture.
Second, let’s remember that elsewhere in the Gospel, Jesus even said he didn’t come to do away with the Law but rather to fulfill it. Jesus wasn’t trashing the Law and those who preach it, but instead giving it life and meaning.
Meaning is something humanity has always, always, always been searching for. Philosophers debate it. Armies fight over it. People go out to the woods to find it. We look to religion, charity, self-help books, art, music, sports cars, mid-life crises and much more trying to find the answers to our biggest questions:
Why are we here? What’s life all about?
We even make a lot of jokes about our search for meaning because it’s such a major part of who we are and what we think about. In one of my favorite books, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” they find the “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” Turns out the answer is 42.
Yes, we’ve been thinking about this ever since the beginning. God made everything, put people in the world and told them to love God, love each other and take care of each other and His creation. They took a bite of an apple and said, yeah but what’s the MEANING of it all?
Notice we’re not three chapters into the first book of the Bible and we’re already complicating God’s meaning for our lives.
By the second book of the Bible, God brought His people out of slavery and told them He would lead them to the Promised Land where they would love God, love each other and take care of each other and His creation. And they said well, grumble-grumble-grumble about all this wandering around the dessert looking for the Promised Land; what’s the MEANING of it all?
So God brought Moses up on Mount Sinai and gave His people the Law which, in a nutshell, said to love God, love each other and take care of each other and creation. In fact, make sure you take TIME to get back to it. Take a Sabbath.
Many generations later — after an entire Old Testament of the Bible continuing the pattern — our story picks up at the synagogue one glorious Sabbath day, where that part of the Law is in question: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
This woman found great meaning in being at the synagogue with her stooped and crippled body — despite that many there probably assumed her ailment was some judgment by God against her. I’m guessing she loved the Sabbath, and would not have been anywhere else. After all, she was a “child of Abraham,” as Jesus pointed out. She was meant to be there.
Likewise, the leader of the synagogue found great meaning in following the Law of Moses. The Law of his people, given to them by God who chose them to receive it. In fact, he found so much meaning in it that he was morally offended when he believed Jesus to be breaking God’s Law about the Sabbath.
He had probably spent countless hours, days, months and years thinking about the meaning of the Law. It seems he reached a conclusion that fell short, like pretty much everyone else does so often.
Now, the Law was obviously important or God wouldn’t have bothered with it. But somewhere along the way, this man came to the conclusion that the meaning of life was to follow and serve the Law, not that the Law was there for us.
He got bogged down in it. It was a chore instead of a gift. A weight to carry, a ball-and-chain to drag around. He’s not the only one.
Martin Luther wrestled a lot with the meaning of the Law and what it meant for our lives. He wrote about the way we become buried by the Law. We try really hard to do what we think is right, but we fail. We succumb to jealousy, greed, temptation, anger and hatred. On the other hand, as we try to do our best for others we get burned out, exhausted, and maybe even resentful of all that we have to do.
Then we get upside-down with the Law. It convicts us, binds us and enslaves us. We give up our freedom to live the incredible lives God has given us. To love God, to love each other and to care for each other and creation. The crazy thing is, that’s usually when we start wondering about the meaning of life again.
So look at the Law about the Sabbath. Why did God give us that Law?
Isn’t it so that we can slow down and refocus our lives on the things that matter? To be with God, each other and creation? Isn’t it so that we can stop being busy for a little while and find peace, love and joy in our hearts again? Isn’t it to reset and replace our drive, ambition, jealousy and lust with God’s Word again?
Sabbath is a time for rest, renewal, prayer, and yes… healing.
And so Jesus heals on the Sabbath. He heals the woman in our Gospel reading. He heals our wounded, weary souls. He heals relationships.
Jesus honors and fulfills the Law, turning it upright and restoring its meaning — and thereby restoring life’s meaning. See, when he does, the Law no longer binds us to rigid, arbitrary rules, but frees us to be bound to each other and to our God who loves us.
God’s Law is a gift, given so we know what love in action looks like. And our revolutionary Jesus didn’t come to create lawlessness, but to free us from the bondage of our sin, to make us into new people baptized into God’s family just like the woman he called a “child of Abraham” so that we may share in the fullness of our living God’s kingdom.
This Sabbath day let’s let go of the extra stuff that takes away meaning and, yet again, dwell for a while on why we’re here. The meaning that God tells us over and over. Let’s enjoy this time of worship and healing together as the renewed people of a living, creative God. Let’s make room in our lives all over again for the Spirit to enter, to fill us, to guide us, to comfort us, to inspire us for the work of the Church. Let’s welcome the freedom we’re given by our savior, Christ Jesus, to love God, to love each other, and to take care of each other and creation.
That, my friends… is the meaning of life on the Sabbath and always.