In Luke’s story of the Sabbath healing of the woman ‘bent over 18 years,’ the synagogue ruler interrupts the woman’s grateful praise of God with an indignant take-off from the Decalogue, aimed at Jesus: “Six days shall ye labor, and do all your work…” (Ex 20:9)
I enjoyed reading yesterday’s post on this text by Daniel Kirk, who suggests that we view this disgruntled chazzan as:
“the stand in for the bible-believing Christian in this story… the person who checks everything to see if it’s in line with the word of God, telling the people not to upset the biblical norm for their own convenience or exceptional spiritual experience… the guy who can tell you why this can’t possibly be something that glorifies God because it’s happening in contradiction to scripture… But Jesus calls him on it.”
Yes sir. And I notice Jesus strikes deep with his response to the chazzan but does not threaten the heart of the commandment – that crashing sound we hear is the fall of a post-Sinai tradition of strict observances which had gradually become painfully binding on the daughters and sons of Abraham. When this sedimentary slag of unwritten and re-written addendums is dashed to pieces by Jesus, behold, we see the ancient stone of the Law standing forth in its original purity:
“Give rest to my people, comfort my people, water my people.” This word to the shepherds of Israel is like a refrain running from Sinai, through Second Isaiah, to Jesus. The law reached into every moment of the people’s life, but Jesus here seems to transform the Sabbath into a jubilee of rest from the sharia of binding and tasking and testing which they endured under the quotidian observance-rituals of man-made religion.
Jesus restored two Sabbath principles to the religion of Israel when he bid this shepherd to allow that his people be loosed, healed, and watered on this day. First he minimized the ownership of the day by the rulers and scribes and redirected it back to its rightful owners – the congregation of the daughters and sons of Abraham. “The Sabbath was made for man,” not the other way around. Second he restores the meaning and value of the Sabbath rest to the congregation as a truth of mercy rather than of judgment.
Note: Interesting that this story seems to have no place in the three year cycles of readings followed by some of the mainstream churches (I’ve only checked the 1979 ECUSA 3-year cycle in my possession, but I know others are very similar). Do we wonder why the kinds of high clergy who make such decisions found this story so little inspiring?