|13 - Healing on the Sabbath, Nov 27, 2017 (with audio)|
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In Genesis, the LORD speaks, He gives a command, and it happens (ginomai). What happens is the creation of the world. But, when God makes Man, He speaks and then it doesn’t say that it happened but that He created them in His own image and likeness. I.e., the LORD acts directly and immediately – with His own hands, says St Irenaeus of Lyons – in the creation of man.
To the prophets, the WORD of the LORD happens often as a vision, which the prophets many times are commanded to act out. A theological principle underlying all of this is that the WORD of the LORD isn’t an idea you can think about; it is an event that happens. It enters into space time and receives form, dimension, and becomes a historical event. We see the peculiar character of Christian theology in this. The doctrine of the Church isn’t a dialectical “belief system” produced from out of the wisdom or dialectic of human reasoning. It is knowledge of God given from outside of or beyond the wisdom of the mind – from above – given through direct encounter with God in an event or mighty act of God. Christian theology is a prophetic word describing what has been seen and heard and felt with our hands, viz., the Word of Life who happened to us when He became (genomenos) flesh of the Holy Virgin.
Our Gospel this morning, then, is a prophetic word, Christian theology, that records another happening (genomenos) of the WORD of the LORD; only, it is not a prophet who is acting out the WORD; it is the WORD of the LORD Himself who happened. He became (same word, ginomai) flesh and “pitched His tent” among us. The WORD Himself happened; He Himself became an event, or rather the Eventin history, taking the “form” of a servant (Phil 2:7). This morning, He speaks to the crippled woman, He gives a command: “Be loosed from your infirmity!” He lays His Hand on her – and, if this is the Hand of the LORD, it would be His Holy Spirit – and she is made “Orthodox”: for, it says that when the LORD laid His hands on her – surely a reference to holy baptism – she was made straight (anorthothe) and she glorified (edoxazen) God. Note how the LORD speaks and then acts directly by laying His Hand on the woman, and immediately there is an event as there was in the creation of the world. There is a deliverance and a new creation in the healing of this crippled woman. But with that, note that this deliverance and this new creation happen on the Sabbath to the great ire of the ruler of the synagogue!
Now, in biblical spirituality, the ordinance of the Sabbath commemorates on the one hand, the LORD delivering Israel from Egypt (Dt 5:12-15) and, on the other hand, the creation of the world (Ex 31:12-17). With the latter, keeping the Sabbath Rest is a form of the imitatio Dei. By keeping the Sabbath, the Israelite was taken up into the rhythm of the divine life of God and attained even to a measure of mystical union with God such that even earthly life was sanctified (Dt 5:12 & Ex 31:13).
We can see both of these spiritual principles in this morning’s Gospel. The LORD calls her to Himself, and He speaks to her. He gives a command: “Be loosed”. Behold the Mighty Acts of deliverance and creation that happen to her.
Healing her on the Sabbath, the LORD says she has been delivered from the bonds of Satan. In saying this, does not the LORD show that the Sabbath ordinance in its true character is a prophetic prefigurement of a deliverance that goes far beyond the liberation from Egypt limited to one moment in space-time. It is deliverance from the bonds of death (Heb 2:15), a deliverance that is eternal and spiritual, and so a deliverance that is a new creation. We are given, then, to understand that in the event of this healing of the crippled woman on the Sabbath the WORD of the LORD is performing another Mighty Act that signifies the Event of His Holy Pascha and thus, if you will, the cosmic and eternal fulfillment of the old Sabbath ordinance.
The LORD rebukes those scandalized by His healing the crippled woman on the Sabbath by likening His healing of her to leading one’s ox or donkey away from its crib or manger to drink – as on a kind of Exodus to a kind of Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, but also like the Church going through the wilderness of Winter and early Spring from Christmas to Pascha! The image of the woman crippled and unable to straighten up looks like someone bound to the dust of the ground, i.e., to Satan who, through the fear of death, held us enslaved to the power of death (Heb 2:13). The LORD laying His Hand on the woman is the movement of the priest laying his hand on the baptismal candidate, and of the LORD breathing His Spirit (called the Hand of the LORD, e.g., in Ezekiel) into Adam’s face. We see here, then, an image of creation. The woman receives the touch of the LORD’s Hand as Adam received the Spirit. She is made Orthodox even as Adam was made a living soul, or as the disciples were made holy when they received the Spirit on Pentecost, or as those who receive the LORD are made children of God born from above.
The Spirit, moreover, is called by the LORD “Rivers of Living Water”; and, what flowed from His side on the Cross was “blood and water”, i.e., the life of God that constitutes the sacramental mysteries of the Church, so that those who eat and drink the life of God given in the Church are made to become partakers of the divine nature. Delivered from death by the outstretched arms of the LORD (cf. Dt 5:15) on the Cross, they are made when the priest, an icon of Christ the High Priest, lays his hand on them to become a New Creation (2 Cor 5:17). Crippled before, enslaved to death through their sins and trespasses (Eph 2:1), they are made Ortho-dox. They stand up straight and they glorify God as newly created children of God.
So, the image of leading one’s ox or donkey to drink, which the LORD gives in His rebuke to those scandalized by His healing on the Sabbath, leads us again to the foot of His Cross. That is to say, it leads us to the Sixth Day (Great and Holy Friday), and to the Great and Holy Sabbath of His burial in the tomb, when He rested (“It is finished!” He cried on the Cross with a great voice and sent forth His Spirit) from the works He had begun to do when He created the world (Gn 2:3 LXX) and when he delivered Israel from Egypt (Ex 6:6ff.)
This rest of the LORD in the tomb on the Sabbath Day, this is the true Sabbath. It is that Sabbath we swore we would participate in when we swore at our baptism that we had united ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death. This is the Sabbath that one can enter only through faith (Heb 3:19) which St Paul makes very clear is to keep one’s heart from falling away from God so that one’s heart is not made hard by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12-13). This is the other Sabbath that remains for the people of God, that we must strive to enter by keeping ourselves from disobedience (Heb 4:9-11).
Dear faithful, do you see? We were healed, we were delivered from death and we raised to life, a new creation, we were made to stand up straight and to glorify God on the True Sabbath; i.e., at our baptism when we were made one with Christ in the mystery of His death and made to be communicants of His Sabbath Rest in the Tomb on Great and Holy Saturday!
If so, how do you think we as Orthodox Christians keep the True Sabbath if it is not to keep ourselves united to Christ in the likeness of His death, so that we are striving to enter the True Sabbath Rest of Christ – i.e., His Tomb that gives birth to our Resurrection – by putting to death all that is earthly in us, by denying ourselves and taking up our Cross and following Christ into the Promised Land, the Garden of Eden. This is our work: to unite ourselves to Christ by taking up the Cross the Church gives to us in her ascetic disciplines. When we do the work of faith, voluntarily uniting ourselves to Christ in obedience to Christ, we receive into our souls and bodies the WORD of the LORD who works on the True Sabbath in us who believe. He works in us in exactly the same way He worked in this crippled woman. He delivers us and makes us to become a New Creation. Amen!