[On Sabbath] Free to Rest (Luke)

Bible opened to Luke 13 with Green and Black's Organic Mint Dark Chocolate on snowman plate

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic Mint Dark Chocolate

Today’s PassagesLuke 13:10-17. Luke 14:1-6

When the Sabbath gets mentioned in the gospels, it’s often because something or other happened on the Sabbath: for example, in Mark 1:21Mark 6:2, or Matthew 28:1/Mark 16:1. During the Olivet Discourse, Jesus notes, “But pray that your flight will not be in the winter, or on a Sabbath” (Matthew 24:20). Even though he allows his disciples to sate their hunger during Sabbath, he expects them to keep Sabbath even in flight from danger. Mark 2:23-3:4 and Luke 6:1-10 offer parallel accounts of the grain-picking and hand-healing episodes that we saw yesterday in Matthew. Mark’s account reports Jesus’ statement “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27), but there’s not a whole lot of “theology of the Sabbath” until we get to two additional Sabbath healings from Luke.

In the first incident, which happens while Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, he heals a woman who’s bent double from “a sickness caused by a spirit” (13:10). In response, the synagogue official tells the crowd: “There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day” (13:14). I note that the official doesn’t rebuke Jesus; perhaps he thinks it would be easier to control an entire crowd than to get this ruckus-raising rabbi to behave. I also note that the fourth commandment wasn’t viewed as an injunction to work every waking hour of the first six days of the week. It’s simply a call to get done whatever work you have in those six days, and then to cease work on the seventh. Even the official here understands that the fourth commandment doesn’t prescribe an eight-hour workday, or any number of hours per day at all. The important thing is to rest on the seventh day. But of course, in the official’s view, that includes healing diseases.

In the second incident, Jesus heals a man with dropsy while dining at a Pharisee’s house, and in both incidents, he has a similar response to his critics. After healing the bent-over woman, he tells the official, “You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (13:15). Then, after healing the man with dropsy, he asks the lawyers and Pharisees, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” (14:5). In both cases, he points out a case where his critics will do work on the Sabbath.

Moreover, he points out what they instinctively know: the Sabbath is for freedom. If we loose our animals to drink on the Sabbath, if we will even pull animals and people out of the pits they’re trapped in, how can we object to freeing people from sickness and disease on the Sabbath? Think back to its origins in the Exodus, when God liberated his people from nonstop labor and slavery in Egypt. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day have weighed it down with restrictions and burdens, to the point where keeping the Sabbath is work. But no, says Jesus. The Sabbath is for freedom.



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