Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sabbath

In Luke 6, Jesus tells us that he is "Lord of the Sabbath." Now the purpose of the Sabbath is given as two seemingly different reasons. First, because God worked six days and rested on the seventh, so should we rest on the Sabbath. The second reason is that YHWH had brought Israel out of Egypt - they had been saved and had now been released. The Sabbath then, pictured rest and release from oppression. It is not a large stretch to say then that the Sabbath means life, healing, release for the people of God.

Jesus tells us that he is Lord of the Sabbath. What did he mean? A number of meanings have been suggested but, in it's simplest form, it means that he as the Son of Man can best interpret it; that he can illustrate what it means to observe the Sabbath.

He has to say this because he has been just accosted by those who objected to his followers "working" on the Sabbath by "harvesting grain," and walking through the fields. The Sabbath, they knew was to be free of work of any kind.

After this story of grain harvesting, Luke will tell us of healing of the man's withered hand. This latter story is an interesting setting. Jesus is teaching in a synagogue and this man is present. Some of the folks there are wondering what Jesus is going to do and so they are watching. Jesus knows what they're thinking and he invites the man to stand up, and Jesus asks the assembly, "is it good to do good on the Sabbath, or to do harm?" This is a rhetorical question and it receives no reply. Jesus looks around one more time and tells the man to stretch out his hand and wouldn't you know it, the hand is healed.

The folks who were watching to see what would happen, after being put in a corner by his question, and having him defy the Sabbath rules by "working" and healing this man, are furious and their opposition is almost sealed. These folks had majored in the details of keeping the Law and couldn't grasp the healing and blessing being offered by God through Jesus.

This brings us back to our first story - the one of the grain. In response to the religious leaders' objections, Jesus reminds them of another "rule breaker," David. David didn't just work on a Sabbath, but he violated the food restrictions of the bread of the presence. Only priests could eat that bread, but David received it and shared it with his followers. The details of the story aren't as important as the reality that David "broke the rules."

Jesus uses this story to teach the very point he is going to make in the next story - is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or harm? While Jesus' interlocutors won't answer this question, we know the answer is that it is always right to do good on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift of rest, of healing, of release and a reminder of God's work in the world and for Israel. The Sabbath isn't supposed to be a burden or a restriction, but one of refreshment for people. Because that is what it is to remember; because it is about life, healing, and release, it is logically and appropriately right to "bend the rules" to benefit people. As we are told other places, the Sabbath was made for man; not man for the Sabbath.

It is often said that in the Christian system there are no laws - the Law having been taken away. This is not however entirely true. There is at least one law required to be kept - the law of love. The details of that law are not spelled out in Scripture but they are illustrated by Jesus. There are other "rules," and we get some of them from Jesus, Paul, and John. Jesus will give us a set of rules in the Sermon on the Mount and in the Judgment Scene. Paul will give us directions about how to behave in the Christian community, and John will tell us that denying that Messiah came in the flesh is a problem for those who would be disciples.

There are rules but some are more important than others. The greatest? Love. If you have to break a rule, don't break this one. Rather, on the basis of this rule, it is acceptable to break the others. Love conquers everything else. Instructive here is that love itself cannot be seen; we only deduce it from someone's behavior toward others. If that's true, then each of us may express our love differently, based on how we perceive a situation, our relationship to it, and our own experiences. The measure is our motivation in doing what we do even if we might show it differently than someone else - even if we might get it wrong.

Love demands that if understand that about our behaviors, grounded in love, we must extend that same grace to others who seem to love is ways we might not; and even if we might consider their behavior "wrong," we bear with them in knowing that their motivation was love.

The Christian Sabbath is Jesus himself. When we come to God; when we enter Jesus, we enter his rest, his Sabbath. In Scripture though, the blessings we get from God are not for us exclusively. We are to pass on those blessings and in most cases we are to become those blessings. How might this apply to the Sabbath rest we enjoy and the reality that Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath. It is simply this: we are to become, and to extend life, healing, and release to others just as God does for us.

As you go about your week, imagine yourself as a Sabbath bringer; someone who gives life, healing, and release to others. Make what you do and what you say communicate life, healing, and release for those you meet, those you work with, and even those who rub you the wrong way.

Be Sabbath.

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