|09 - Heailng a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath, Nov 29, 2015|
Why were so many of the LORD’s healing miracles done on the Sabbath? When the ruler of the synagogue says: “There are six days when we must work. Come to be healed on one of those days but not on the Sabbath,” he is simply rehearsing the LORD’s commandment laid down in the Law of Moses. It says that whoever does any work on the Sabbath or profanes it shall be put to death. (e.g., Ex 31:14 & Ex 35:2) The Sabbath is to be kept holy forever. (Lev 16:31) And so, says St John, the Jews sought to kill the LORD, as they thought the Law itself directed them to do, because He broke the Sabbath. (Jn 5:17) But, what made them want to kill Him all the more is that He called God His Father and thereby made Himself to be equal with God. (Jn 5:18)
So, by healing on the Sabbath, the LORD was getting to the heart of things. How can He be the Son of God if He breaks the Sabbath commandment laid down by God? Is He not rather a “Samaritan” (a breaker of the covenant), possessed by a demon (Jn 8:48) who casts out demons by the prince of demons? (Mk 3:22ff)
Jesus answers the Jews: “I do not have a demon, for I honor my Father.” This takes things between Him and the Jews to the breaking point. How is He honoring God if He is breaking the Sabbath, a statute to be kept forever? In another place, He says to the Jews in regard to this same issue, “How can Satan cast out Satan? How can a Kingdom divided against itself stand?” (Mk 3:23-24) I think He may be switching here from talking about Satan to talking about the Kingdom of God. It is absurd and self-evident that Satan cannot cast himself out. But, if He is the Son of God breaking God’s commandment by healing on the Sabbath, then the Son is opposing the Father and God’s Kingdom cannot stand, which is even more absurd. So, His healing on the Sabbath can only mean that there is a deeper meaning to the Sabbath. The LORD may indicate what that deeper meaning is when He says to the ruler of the synagogue: “Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the manger and lead it away so that it can drink?” In another place He says to the Jews, “Who of you, if his sheep falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it to lift it out?” (Mt 12:11) The statute of the Sabbath in the Law of Moses and the LORD healing so many people on the Sabbath, then, go together. The Sabbath belongs to the LORD say the prophets. (e.g., Eze 20:12) The deeper meaning of the Sabbath, revealed in the LORD healing people on the Sabbath, therefore cannot be discovered if one does not confess that He is in fact who He says He is: the Son of God, and so, the LORD.
The biblical Sabbath has to do with creation. One reason it is holy may be because it contains within itself the mystery of man’s nature and destiny. I have always been struck by Gn 2:3 as given in the Septuagint: “God blessed the Sabbath and sanctified it, because on it God rested from all His works which He had begun to do.” One gets the sense that God rested having done all He could do, but that the creation yet remained incomplete. Gn 2:15 says that “God took the man whom He had fashioned and set him in the garden to work it and guard it,” (two very important words in the ascetic discipline of Christian spirituality). From this, one gets the sense that it is man’s work to complete the creation. What is that work? What is it that completes the creation?
On the night He was betrayed, Our LORD prayed to the Father: “I pray for those who believe in Me through the word [of the apostles’ preaching and teaching], that they may all be one. Even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, may they also be in us.” (Jn 17:21) To become one with God and to live in Him so that it is not we who live but Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20): i.e., man glorified or deified, the image of God attained fully to the likeness of God: this is what completes creation.
The work given to man to complete God’s creation of heaven and earth was obedience to God. This is how man would become one with God, even a partaker of the divine nature (II Pet 1:4) in the love of God that never dies. (I Cor 13:8)
But this work was left undone because man was disobedient and fell away from God into the “pit”. This, I think, is what lies behind the LORD’s answer to the Pharisees: just like the sheep fallen into the pit, so man is fallen into the pit of hades. Like the ox or ass that need to be given to drink, so man finds himself in a dry and weary land where no water is, thirsting for God (Ps 63:1) like a hart panting after the water brooks. (Ps 42:1) Just as any one of the Jews would do on the Sabbath to deliver his sheep, and to give his ox or his ass water to drink, so also God “is working even now”, as also is His Son (Jn 5:17) to deliver us from the pit of death (cf. Heb 2:14); nor did He cease to do all things until He had raised us up to our original inheritance, God’s heavenly Kingdom. Indeed, says St Isaac of Nineveh, even up until the Ninth Hour the LORD did not rest from labor and wearisome toil; He reposed only in the tomb on the Sabbath. (Hom. 29)
This is the deeper Sabbath, the true Sabbath that our Gospel this morning signifies. (Isaiah already had seen it in his vision of the new heaven and new earth, Isa 66:22-23.) The epistle to the Hebrews says of the Holy of Holies, and of the High Priest entering it but once a year and never without blood which He offered for himself and for the errors of the people, that “by this, the Holy Spirit was indicating that the way into the sanctuary was not yet opened so long as the outer tent was still standing.” (Heb 9:8)
The outer tent was the flesh of the LORD Jesus Christ (cf. Jn 1:12, “The Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us”). His Body that was laid in the tomb is the cornerstone of the New Temple (Jn 2:19; Lk 20:17) not made with hands, not of this world (Heb 9:11); His blood that was shed on the Cross is the Blood of the New Covenant. His rest in the tomb is the true Sabbath. (Heb 4:9-10) In the tomb, God rested from all the works He had begun to do as God and which He Himself finished (Jn 19:30) as man, having been obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross. (Phil 2:8)
When, therefore, the LORD delivers the crippled woman from her infirmity, and raises her up straight (an-ortho-the) so that she glorifies God (e-doxa-zen – He makes her “orthodox”) – in the synagogue on the Sabbath, He is indicating in the Holy Spirit that the way into the true Sabbath rest of God is about to be opened. He is signifying the mystery of His Cross. For, it is in the LORD’s tomb, when He partakes fully of our flesh and blood and becomes like us even in our death, that the mystery hidden in the Sabbath of God that He sanctified after He had created the world was fully revealed. That mystery, says St Paul, is: “Christ in you, the hope of glory!” (Col 1:27) The Jews would put Him to death according to the commandment, not because He profaned the Sabbath as they imagined, but because by His death He would destroy the devil and loose us from our bondage to the fear of death and open the Gates onto the true Sabbath rest of God.
St Isaac says, there is no Sabbath in this life except repose from the passions. That’s when the Sabbath is truly kept holy; and so our Sabbath is the day of the grave. (Hom 29) The “six days” of the week when we work is our life in this world. Now, we do not rest but work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Phil 2:12), working to carry in our body the death of Jesus (II Cor 4:10), i.e. His obedience (Phil 2:8) so that by the power of the Cross, we put to death what is earthly in us (Col 3:5); i.e., our disobedience. In this way, as St Paul says in our epistle this morning, we are waking as from sleep and beginning to rise even now from the dead. We turn the face of our heart toward the light of Christ that dawns in us, and we walk toward it. This is the “work of faith” by which we strive to redeem the time of our six days in this life. We walk, watching carefully, i.e., with all vigilance to keep our face trained on Christ who lifts us out of the pit by His Cross to lead us, as St Paul says in Hebrews, to drink the love of Christ in the true Sabbath rest of God (Heb 4:11) in the mystery of His Holy Pascha. Amen!