Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath
The crippled woman was one of many on a long list of people that Jesus had healed during his ministry on earth. The text is more than just a reminder of Jesus’ divine ability to heal and his compassion towards all people. There are signals and pointers in the text that summon the reader to a closer inspection of the event in the synagogue. The author has used the plight of the crippled woman to display what had happened to the Sabbath itself.
The text begins in a very general way: on a Sabbath, in one of the synagogues, a woman, a sick spirit, as if sickness was a common occurrence throughout the worship centers. The woman had been sick for 18 years. At the time of Jesus, the number 18 had another meaning besides its numerical value. It also represented the blessing of life and it still does today among the Jews. However, in the context of the woman’s sickness the number 18 made a mockery of her condition, she had no life; her life was as if she was dead. Her tragedy mirrors that of the Sabbath.
The Sabbath was always meant to be a time for giving and receiving life. It was meant to be a day set aside in which God could bless his people and restore them to life. It was also a day for praising God for all his goodness. When it was first instituted at the time of Moses, the context had been slavery in Egypt and it was then appropriate to provide a day of rest as a way of giving life to the people of Israel. Over time, the Sabbath became crippled by a sick spirit that bound it with excessive rules, regulations, and traditions formulated by godless men. It could no longer give life. Commandments and regulations are in themselves life giving where required. Unfortunately, they can also stifle and restrict life when the Law is considered more important than restoring someone to life. Human nature itself has a tendency to gravitate and adhere to the Law. Adherence to the law can make one proud and it gives opportunity to lord it over others and make one feel a bit like a god. In the eyes of Jesus, the Sabbath had become like the crippled woman who was bound by a sick spirit and therefore had no life.
How do you live your life? Is it in bondage to the law, or is it also tempered with grace?
In the course of teaching in the synagogue Jesus saw the crippled woman. He immediately stopped what he was doing to attend to her dire needs. Jesus said, “Woman you are set free from your sickness.” Only then did Jesus put his healing hands on her and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Jesus’ proclamation, “Woman you are set free from your sickness” can also refer to the healing of the Sabbath. Through his proclamation, Jesus took charge of the Sabbath. He took the place and duty of the ruler in that synagogue. His act of healing, and the resulting praise from the woman and all the people confirmed Jesus’ status as the Lord of the Sabbath. Through his actions, Jesus had restored the rightful place and function of the Sabbath.
How do you treat your Sunday morning at worship? Is it a place and time of bearable endurance or an opportunity to receive and give life?
The ruler and leaders of the synagogue were quite agitated by these events and most likely saw Jesus as a threat to the established order of things and to their own authority. Their misguided belief was that work and healing should take place on the six ordinary days but not on the Sabbath. No wonder the Sabbath was lifeless, as if it were dead. Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and by simple addition the Sabbath day can be added to the other six days making it a full week in which healing and life could be given and received through Jesus. Since Jesus makes no distinction between the days for work or giving life then each day of the week can also be counted as a Sabbath where Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.
Forget that the week days are called Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. In the eyes of Jesus, they are all Sundays in which you can receive and give life to another.
In the midst of laws, regulations, and traditions Jesus rose above them and gave life to the woman by being merciful and healing her.
The text is as much about healing the crippled woman as it is restoring the Sabbath as a time for giving and receiving life. It is also an indictment upon the rulers and leaders of religious and other institutions for withholding life for the sake of some vague ideal. Their focus was more on maintaining their own self interest through the adherence of laws, regulations, and traditions than the welfare of another human being. Through their own self interest, they had lost the sight and meaning to God’s initial intention for the Sabbath as a time for giving and receiving life.
You and I are just ordinary people, children of Adam and Eve. We are all sinners, and prone to failure and therefore condemnation. In the midst of laws, regulations, and traditions Jesus has had mercy on us too. He has forgiven us our sins, and given us a place with him in heaven all because he loves and cares for us. As believers and therefore disciples of Jesus we are called through this text to be good managers of the people who are in our care or come to us at inconvenient times. Whether we are parents, neighbours, pastors, or managers of people in some way, we are called to give daily life. It may mean being merciful and showing forgiveness, or caring for a sick neighbour, or helping out a beggar on the street so that life may continue.
Like Jesus, we too can take the three basic steps towards giving life as demonstrated in the text: stop what you are doing, take charge of the situation, and extend your healing hands. For many parents this seems like a natural progression because they love and care for their children. Unfortunately, this process becomes more difficult when we are interrupted in the things we like to do. Particularly difficult on an institutional level where there are committees focused on upholding the regulations. But that can be overcome with a focus on Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath. He will give us a healthy spirit, a spirit of love in which we too can rise above matters of little concern to be able to give life to others. Interruptions into our busy routines can at times be opportunities to help and give life to someone in need. In this way we give glory to God.
Sunday morning is a place and time for you to receive life from Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath as it is also a place and time for you to give a helping or healing hand to someone in need. Every good service provided in our own Christian community is a way of giving life to another and glory to God.
The crippled woman praised God for her healing, and the text ends with the author noting that all the people were delighted with the wonderful things Jesus was doing. Today, wherever you find Jesus in the life of his disciples, there you will find that the people are delighted with all the wonderful things done in his name. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath and through his resurrected life continues to heal and give life to all people on each and every day. Amen.