|13 A Healing on the Sabbath, November 25, 2007|
In this morning’s Gospel, the Savior is teaching in one of the synagogues, and it is the Sabbath, or Saturday, the seventh and last day of the week. If he is teaching in the synagogue, that means he is teaching from the books of Moses or the prophets. And, if he is teaching from the books of Moses or the prophets, that means he is teaching the people about who he is; for, as he says to the Jews in another place: “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; but it is these scriptures that bear witness of me” (Jn 6:39)
This tells us that Jesus would have been teaching the people in the synagogue about the coming of the Christ, which Moses and the prophets are talking about. He could have been teaching them about the new covenant written on the heart, as the prophet Jeremiah prophesies; or about the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit as the prophet Joel prophesies; or about the raising of the dead, as the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah prophesy.
There are many things he could have been teaching them. We don’t know exactly what he was teaching them. We can be confident, I think, that he wasn’t telling them directly that he himself was the Christ, but that he was teaching them something about what to look for when the Christ comes, and how to prepare themselves for his coming so that they would recognize him when he comes.
In the middle of his teaching, he calls out to this woman who was bent over, unable to straighten up, bound by an illness for a very long time – 18 years. By his word, he delivers her from the dark spirit that had caused her sickness, and immediately she is able to stand up straight. It is like she was re-created, raised up from the dust of the ground as Adam was and made into a living creature.
If the people, after hearing what Jesus was teaching them, and then seeing what he did for this woman, still did not understand who it was that was in their midst, it was because they were to be sure the very people whom the Savior himself had rebuked through his prophets: “Son of man,” the Word of the Lord – i.e., the Christ – said, for example, to his prophet, Ezekiel, “You live in the midst of a rebellious house. They have eyes to see but they see not. They have ears to hear, but they hear not, for they are a rebellious house.”
The Sabbath day is holy because on that day God rested from his work of creation. His work of creation was calling the world into the light of being from out of the darkness of nothingness. His creation was the work of giving the life of his own Holy Spirit to those who were in darkness and bringing them into the light that emanates from the very Being of God.
That Jesus heals this woman so as in effect to re-create her, making her so she could stand up straight again and opening her mouth so that she glorified God as man was created to do, he is demonstrating by his actions what he no doubt was teaching by his word, which was the very same word that was spoken to Moses and the prophets, and the very same word that called the creation into being. His action of healing the woman shows that the word of his teaching is powerful and full of light and life, that it is the Word of God who is the Lord of the Sabbath. And so, if he, the Lord of the Sabbath, is healing this woman, re-creating her, on the Sabbath, the day that he himself sanctified when he rested on the Sabbath from his work of creation, it is a sign that the Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, he who is the Light of the world, has come in the flesh and has dawned on his creation in a new way. As the prophets foretold, in his coming in the flesh, the Light of God has dawned on the world not from outside but from within the human heart, filling our human nature from within with the knowledge of him who has made himself to be personally present among us by becoming flesh and dwelling among us. His healing of this woman on the Sabbath, the last day of the week, is a sign that we have come to the Last Day of the world, that God’s rest has ended, and that he is rising up to re-create the world, to replenish it, to liberate it from the death brought on by the fruit of the serpent’s tree, and to raise up those who had fallen at Midnight and at the dawn of the New Day, the Day of Resurrection, the Day of the Lord, the First Day of the new creation when the covenant of God would be written on the heart, and the Spirit of God would be poured out on all flesh.
This Good News of the Church, of course, is not of this world. It is from above, of the Spirit. For that reason, as the leader of the synagogue in this morning’s Gospel shows – when, in spite of what he had just heard and seen from the Savior, he still did not understand and was even indignant because Jesus healed on the Sabbath – the reality to which this Good News bears witness cannot be seen apart from faith. Faith properly expressed, writes St Maximus the Confessor, is practicing the commandments of Christ. In other words, faith is not a blind leap into the unknown, nor is it believing what common sense tells you not to. Faith is true knowledge, a knowledge that is higher than what the mind can attain on its own reasoning. Faith is knowledge of the unseen reality to which the Good News of the Church bears witness, a knowledge that comes from doing the will of God; or, as St Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we read this morning: it comes from walking in the light of God.
“Be imitators of God, as beloved children,” St Paul writes. “Walk in love just as Christ also loved you and gave himself up for us.” We need to be careful that we not read these words and then go off and try to practice them according to our own interpretation of them. We need to study the Scriptures and to stick close to the teaching of our Mother, the Church, to learn from her what it means to walk in love as Christ loved us. St Paul makes it clear that to walk in love as Christ loves us doesn’t mean to associate with those who walk in the darkness of disobedience. “Do not be partakers with them,” he warns. St Paul tells us what the darkness looks like in the heart of man. It is caused by immorality, impurity and greed. These qualities of the darkened heart are very much like the sickness of the crippled woman we met in this morning’s Gospel. Her sickness was caused by a dark spirit that had bent her body over so she could not look up to see the light of the sun. So also greed in our mind and heart gives birth to immorality and impurity, and in these dark deeds of the mind and heart our soul is bent down so that we cannot look up to see the Light of Christ, the Sun of Righteousness.
Filthiness, silly talk, coarse jokes, covetousness: these, says St Paul, are deeds of darkness in which we should have no part. For, he says, we were formerly darkness – we were like the crippled woman in this morning’s Gospel – but now we are light in the Lord; therefore, walk as children of light. He is referring to our baptism, when the Lord raised us up from out of our darkness when we were dead in our trespasses, and made us to stand straight so that we were looking to the East – to the resurrection of Christ God, the Sun of Righteousness. You will remember that immediately after we were raised up from the baptismal waters, we were clothed in the robe of light; and after we were anointed with the holy myrrh Chrismation, we took our first steps as newborn children of God. We walked around the baptismal font three times. We were walking in the mystery of the Holy Trinity; and so we were walking in the light and life of God. Then, we were brought all the way to the foot of the ambon. There we were met by the priest, bringing to us the gifts of the Holy Eucharist as an icon of Christ bringing to us the fruit of the Tree of Life for us to partake, that we might be made into partakers of the divine nature and so realize the purpose for which God created us: that we might become communicants of life eternal.
Those of you who have had the blessing of being received into the Orthodox Church, the body of Christ, as adults, remember how you felt on the day of your baptism and your chrismation. You remember the joy you felt, the sense of light. For some, the clouds of uncertainty and doubt were cleared away and you felt as it were a light of divine certainty shining from within your heart. For others, you came to the font or to your chrismation still wrestling with certain passions; but on that day, you were changed. You truly felt that you had been transferred from the darkness into the light of Christ in God’s heavenly Kingdom.
Many of those to whom St Paul was writing in his letter to the Ephesians were also adults when they were received into the Church, into the mystery of Christ’s body. They, too, would have remembered the day of their holy baptism and would have known from their own experience that what St Paul was telling them about Christ and the Gospel were true. It is on the strength of this experience of Christ’s healing touch, applied to us in the sacraments of the Church, that St Paul exhorts us today as he did the Ephesians to partake no longer in the deeds of darkness, but expose them; i.e., confess them in the sacrament of confession. But you have awakened as though from sleep; you have been raised up as though from the dead, and you have experienced the light of Christ shining upon you in the joy of your holy baptism and in the beauty of the Church’s liturgical worship. “Therefore, be careful how you walk, not as unwise but as wise children of God. Make the most of your time.” Realize that the time in which we now live is the time of the Great and Holy Sabbath when Christ is resting from his work of re-creating Adam by his Cross. “Do not be foolish.” Do not return to the dark deeds of the world. “Do not be drunk with wine. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,” by walking in the ways of the Lord, constantly calling your mind and your heart to the remembrance of God, praying without ceasing, always in a Thanksgiving; i.e., by keeping your life in this world centered not on the dark deeds of greed, immorality and impurity, but on the light of Christ that shines upon you in his holy Church, in her sacraments. Do not partake of the darkness; partake of Christ in Holy Eucharist. Do not walk in the ways of disobedience. Walk in the light of Christ. For to us the Lord has spoken as he spoke to the woman in this morning’s Gospel: “You are freed from your sickness!” Therefore, stand up straight, keep yourself on the Cross with Christ and walk towards the East, glorifying God who has saved us. Amen.