Sabbath: Law, or Life?

Sermon for the tenth Sunday after Trinity – Year C 2019

Isaiah 58:9-14
Luke 13:10-17

Sabbath: Law, or Life?

I wonder how many of us picked up the Christmas reference in the gospel reading?? I’ll leave that one hanging for a few moments 🙂

I guess that many folk will be told that the message of the gospel today is ‘you shouldn’t allow your religious observances to get in the way of human compassion’, after all, isn’t that the obvious? Well, no. Indeed such an interpretation only reveals how shaped by our own culture we are, and subtly suggests, as our culture is happy to suggest, the the agency of God is of little significance compared with what we do. Perhaps this is why we always argue for Martha over Mary.
Whilst there are of course instances of those who do not act with compassion, you would find few of any persuasion who would argue that compassionate action is significant, so why bring God into it?? Let’s just get on with being compassionate . . . funny that in a culture where this is ‘common sense’, so few go to church

Note that saying ‘don’t let your religious get in the way of compassion’ seems to separate out the world of our observances from the rest of the world, as if ‘Religion’ belonged in a separate box from how we are to live in the world. As if they are to a degree in conflict., and so to resolve the conflict we go out from this place and ‘into the Real World’ where we can all get on with compassionate action, whether or not we are religious . . . or so the story goes . . .

But for our purposes today, we need to see that this is not what is going on, at all. After all, how many or us in our ‘compassion’ do the things Jesus does? Feeding 5000? Making the blind see? Raising the dead even . . . or even the simple ‘compassionate act’ of laying hands on a crippled woman who then stands up straight. Notice that in order to talk in the terms of the world, we have to ignore the actual thing Jesus does! Or, to put it to one side, sideline the action of God breaking in.

Strangely enough, as is almost always the case, our world subtly ends up agreeing with Jesus; opponents. You don’t have to be religious to be a Pharisee or a synagogue ruler in attitude . . . There’s a time and a place for worship of God, keep your religion to yourself – keep talk of God out of this arena . . .

Does not the Psalmist say ‘The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul’? If we are God’s children, then we should not so easily fall into the lazy assumptions that somehow the Law of the Lord is in conflict with Life, not at all, and most especially with regard to the Sabbath.

The Sabbath is actually the first of the Commandments which we might say is to do with love of neighbour. the first three being oriented to loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength. Then Sabbath . . .

Our problem is made clear in the synagogue leaders response to Jesus’ healing the crippled woman. “There are six days when it is necessary to work; come therefore on those days and be healed, and not on the day of the Sabbath!” Thereby showing that he completely fails to understand the significance of the Sabbath . . . for the Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul . . .

As you may I hope be aware, there are two accounts of the Sabbath commandment in scripture. In order to understand the meaning and scope of the Sabbath we need to consider both of these together.

First there is the Sabbath described in terms of the fulfilment of Creation. After God has completed his work of Creation he rests, when Creation is finished. Then we enter the Rest of God, ‘when our work is done’, to pick up on the words of a prayer of Cardinal Newman. But, when is the work done – when One says ‘It is finished’ . . . The work of Creation is completed in Jesus, upon the Cross, but not just the work of Creation – the work of Redemption – of setting the oppressed free . . . ‘this woman, this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has held in bondage these 18 years’

This bring us to the second ‘Ten commandments’ text, that in Deuteronomy. Here the Sabbath is spoken of in terms of rescue from slavery. Do not forget that you were slaves in Egypt – God brought you out of slavery into His kingdom.

There is a tendency to read this in terms of work, ‘don’t be enslaved to your work!’ – and of course if we have the first Sabbath commandment working in our imagination, then we might understand it in those terms. But there is an associated emphasis – that of rescue. You were slaves, God brought you out of slavery! Or he tried . . . but they preferred their old ways. They yearned for Egypt – they didn’t want the Life of God.

This was there problem – they didn’t want the life of God. This is the problem of the synagogue ruler, he didn’t want the Life of God, and it is the problem of the world which says – keep your faith to yourself, it doesn’t want the life of God. Which brings us of course to Christmas – the present of the life of God . . . I wonder if you have worked out the Christmas reference in the gospel? It is in Jesus rebuke to the synagogue ruler.
‘Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger . . .’
Now of course someone might say – ‘but Luke has no ox and ass at the manger! Except he does, here 🙂 And what is more this reference is precisely to do with people wanting nothing to do with the life of God . . . from the very opening verses of the prophet Isaiah . . .

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth; for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

So from the earliest days, in the early Christmas ikons and stories, there were the ox and the ass, for they knew their masters crib . . . or manger. Jesus is saying to the synagogue ruler – remember the ox and ass?? These dumb animals recognise the life of God – you think you’re just leading them to water, but they know! But Israel does not know, my people do not understand.

The ox and ass by the manger – recognising the Life of God – Knowing Jesus.

Jesus as he announces his ministry reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah ‘The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me . . . to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour! What is the Year of the Lord’s favour? It is the Jubilee year – the year in which everything was to be set straight – it was the Sabbath of Sabbaths – it was the fulfilment of the Sabbath and as Jesus walks into the Synagogue and sees the woman, the fulfilment of the Sabbath is here

If you realise that, then not only does Jesus’ healing the woman on the Sabbath make perfect sense, but also everything else Jesus says in Luke’s gospel. The Sabbath of Sabbaths, the The year of Restoration of all things. The Jubilee year in which those who had accumulated land handed it back, when those who due to misfortune or ill will, it matters not, had been enslaved, were set free. When once more all had everything they need, as everything was reditributed.

This is why Jesus speaks of this year as woe to those who have grown rich! A settlement is coming which is good news to the poor! Or ‘give to everyone who asks of you’ – ‘you cannot be my disciple unless you give up your possessions’ He is the Sabbath of Sabbaths King, the one who being in very nature God, does not cling onto equality, but made himself nothing, he emptied himself and in so doing restored all things. And so on the Cross decalres, ‘it is finished’
The Jubilee, the Sabbath of Sabbaths is the year of Restoration, made physically present in the body of Jesus. Who touches the woman – Jubilee touches the woman ‘and the people were rejoicing at all the glorious things occurring through him’
In his very being, his very presence life pours out, Sabbath Life, Healing life.

Jesus, the culmination of God’s work – it is the work that from the cross Jesus announced as complete, ‘it is finished in Him’. That is our fullest healing. In Jesus Is Sabbath – come unto me, all you who are weary and I will give your Rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn form me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls . . .

So, Sabbath: Law or Life? The answer? Sabbath – the Law of Life in its fullest. The Law of God is always away from death and towards life. Insofar as we don’t get this we can either ignore the law of god, ignoring his life giving word . . . or we can fail to see that the End of the Law -the culmination of the Law is god’s Eternal Life. For Jesus has not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul – In Jesus this has come in his very being . . .

Truly when we know Jesus, when we along with the ox and the ass know our master, we can say, Amen Amen The Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. Knowing Jesus, the Law is no longer alien, needing to be discarded as ‘out of date’, nor observed for it’s own sake. For everything is fulfilled in Him.

Amen

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