Breaking Sabbath - Providing Grace & Mercy

11th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16

The Reverend Meg Lovejoy

In the name of the Father, and Of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Well, Jesus has done it again. That radical has gone and cured a woman of her brokenness and he did it on the Sabbath!” Can’t you just hear the gossip flowing? Can’t you feel the discord his actions caused? The leaders in the synagogue prided themselves on following the law. They had had enough of this man who broke the law and did it in front of his followers and everyone else who was at the synagogue.

Jesus picked grain with his disciples as they walked through a field on a Sabbath. He healed the withered hand of a man while teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath. He healed the man with dropsy while dining with a group of Pharisees on the Sabbath. This was just too much for them. So they brought Jesus’ actions before the crowds at the synagogue. “There are 6 days when Jesus could do his healing. Why can’t he heal on those days? He needs to stop all this healing on the Sabbath.” (Lk 13:14) It sounds pretty ridiculous to us, today, but Sabbath was taken very seriously by the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were the keepers of the Law. They knew what had happened to their ancestors when they broke the covenant that Moses had been given. It was exile to a foreign land. They certainly weren’t going to make that mistake again, so they wrote laws that had to be followed; laws that covered just about everything one could think of in regards to what had been handed down to Moses, and then some!

That was the Old Covenant. With Jesus came the New Covenant. Jesus was a devout Jewish man who knew the law. The problem was the interpretation of that law when grace and mercy are ignored. So Jesus taught that the purpose of the Sabbath is to encourage, not forbid, works of compassion. Jesus showed that healing people on the Sabbath is not work but grace and mercy is more important than strict adherence to rules. Jesus spoke directly to the leaders of the synagogue and called them hypocrites. They had laws that would not allow one to untie livestock to make the animal work, but the law allowed one to untie livestock to allow it to drink. If this was the case, why was it not permissible to allow for healing of a fellow human being? Was a person held in lower regard than an animal?

Well, maybe the leaders of the synagogue did hold the woman in lower regard than an ox or a donkey. Women were not of much importance in the society of that day. Jesus shows a way of loving and caring for those who were and are considered the lowest in society. It is a radical action. It caused a crisis then and still causes a crisis today. When we reach out in love to the lowest in society, we upset the regular way of doing things.

The woman did not approach Jesus and ask to be healed. She was at the synagogue to worship. Jesus did this all on his own. Jesus saw that the woman was bound by Satan, which meant she was enslaved by evil. What kind of evil, we don’t know. Maybe she had been overworked carrying heavy loads for too long and as a result her back was injured and bent. Maybe she had been beaten and put down for so long that her spirit had died within her and all she could do was look at the ground, hunched over. Maybe she had born many children who had not lived very long or had lived in such poverty she lost all hope. We just don’t know what evil caused her to end up crippled, but Jesus could fix this. Jesus showed God’s activity in the world counteracts the evil in the world. Jesus showed his moral authority over the religious power structure as well as the forces of Satan. In this way of healing on the Sabbath, Jesus taught that rest is not the only focus of the day. Release from bondage, from the slavery of sin, is also a focus of the Sabbath. Even though the woman showed no faith to Jesus, once she had been healed, she praised God. Through his act of healing, Jesus, once again, performs an act of radical grace.

Br. Jim Woodrum of the Society of St. John the Evangelist said, “Everywhere we look, we can see the ills of injustice: violence, war, addiction, abuse, racism, neglect, indifference. Many of us bear the oozing wounds from these ills, carrying around burdens that have been unfairly placed on us with no help in sight. In God’s economy, healing is on the way. When we put our trust in Jesus, holding out our hands and giving our burdens to Him, we will in turn be fed, salved, and nurtured back to the fullness that God has always intended for us.”

We can be the hands and feet of Jesus, offering healing grace and mercy, in spite of laws that oppress and restrict those in the margins and at the lowest levels of society. We can share the words of Jesus, showing love and kindness to those in need. We can bring others into the knowledge of that love and give them hope, but only if we speak and act. Our Christian faith calls us to be radicals in a time of oppression and inequality. In doing so, we follow Jesus.