Peace be with you!
According to the Bible, Sabbath means a day of rest. There is even a commandment stating that we should rest on the seventh day. But in this modern society, do we ever take a day per week to rest? Do we even know how to rest? Do we know what it means to rest?
My body has a Sabbath clock built in. If I am on the go constantly too many days in a row, my muscles shut down on me. Last month I went to Minnesota for five days for a conference. I was up early each day for lectures and discussions and up late each night visiting with friends. I flew home on a six o’clock flight in the morning so I could be home for an appointment in the afternoon. I was tired when I finally got home, but I had every intention of getting up the next morning to volunteer at the hospital. My step-dad said I was never going to make it to the hospital, but I insisted I would. The next morning, my alarm went off; my brain attempted to wake up but my muscles just laughed at me and I couldn’t manage to get up. Finally, my brain surrendered and I fell back to sleep. My body needed twelve hours of sleep – a day of rest.
On the Sabbath, Jesus is in the synagogue like most good Jews when he sees a woman who is unable to stand up straight (Luke 13:11). A spirit has crippled her for eighteen years (Luke 13:11); she walked around bent over for 6,570 days, unable to straighten up and unable to see what was in front of her. Her back was in constant pain from being bent over.
Jesus calls her over and says, “Woman, you are set free of your aliment” (Luke 13:12 NRSV). The woman stands up straight for the first time in eighteen years when Jesus lays hands on her (Luke 13:13ab). Immediately, the woman begins praising Jesus (Luke 13:13c) because for the first time she is without pain and can see what is in front of her. Jesus has compassion for the woman, not because she asks for the healing or makes a statement of faith, but she is oppressed by her aliment.
The synagogue’s leaders have a fit over Jesus healing the woman on a Sabbath. To the crowd, the leaders say, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day” (Luke 13:14c NRSV). The leaders are quoting the Sabbath commandment from Exodus 20 where the focus is on the fact God made the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. Jesus turns the argument around on the leaders by pointing to Deuteronomy 20:15:
Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 20:12-15 NRSV).
Jesus is telling the people, “You rest on the Sabbath to remember the Lord saved you from being oppressed in Egypt.” So Jesus asks the leaders, “Why should this woman not be healed on the Sabbath?” (Luke 13:16). By being healed, the woman was set free from her disability, which prevented her from enjoying life. Healing the woman honored the Sabbath commandment according to Jesus.
We often focus on the not working aspect of the Sabbath commandment. What would it look like if we spent the Sabbath focusing on being free of oppression? We could use the Sabbath to lift the spirits of others by empowering them to be their best. We could work on letting go of those ideals which cause us to withhold ourselves from the community. Worship encourages us to come together as a community to free those around us from our shortcomings and to build each other up as God’s children. The world’s oppression, which tries to keep us from God, is laid on the altar where the needs of the community are lifted up in prayer. The inclusive Christian community invites all people to look forward to the Kingdom of God where oppression does not exist.
On days when my muscles shut down, I am reminded of my body’s limits. Due to Cerebral Palsy, I am constantly battling my muscles to do what I want them to do: brush my hair, stand up, type an email, paddle my bike, and [whatever “it” is] I need to do. However, when my Sabbath alarm clock goes off, my muscles force me to relax and be quiet and stationary. Being still causes my muscles to forget the oppression they battle every other day. I often forget how much work it takes for me to function until my body demands a day of rest – not because I do not understand my own limits but because I am too busy in the world. On my shut-down days, I am reminded how much I need God the Father to give me strength.
Thanks be to God!
Dear Heavenly Father, Thank you for giving us the Sabbath to rest and to release us from oppression. Help us to honor the Sabbath as a way to worship you. Give us the strength to let go of what oppresses us. Release us from the world’s oppression as we go out to share the good news. Thank you for releasing us from oppression to be in a relationship with you. Amen.
Thanks to the Triune God – God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Please answer the following reflective questions in the comments below. Please agree to disagree and be respectful to each other. (If you have not already done so, please also take a moment, to sign the comment covenant located here.) You can answer as many questions as you would like.
1. How do you honor the Sabbath?
2. When and how do you experience oppression?
3. What would it look like if we spent the Sabbath focusing on being free of oppression?
4. How does your body force you to take a Sabbath?