13 - The Meaning of Jesus' Healings on the Sabbath, Nov 26, 2017

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Ephesians 4:1-6

Luke 13:10-17

“Is it not necessary (deo – catch the irony: are we not under the (divine) chain of necessity) that this woman be loosed from Satan’s chain (desmos: from the root, deo) on the Day of the Sabbath?” says the LORD to the ruler of the synagogue. N.B., her healing was the breaking of a chain, a deliverance from bondage. The ruler of the synagogue, the LORD’s adversary, is put to shame, but the crowd rejoices in God. The scene looks like a rehearsal of the LORD’s descent into hell as given in the vision of the Psalmist, when he sees the LORD breaking asunder the chains (desmos) of those sitting in darkness and the shadow of death, and delivering them out of their distress (cf. Ps 106:10,14,16,20 & 31 LXX).

The Jews wanted a sign from Jesus; but, they missed completely the chief of His signs: His healings, I’m thinking, on the Sabbath. The lesson this morning isn’t that mercy trumps legal observance of the Sabbath; it’s the meaning of the Sabbath according to the Scriptures, or how one reads Moses and the prophets – as the LORD asked the lawyer two Sundays ago before He told the parable of the man who fell among thieves on his way to Jericho. “Is it not necessary?” I’m thinking what the LORD means is that this woman must be healed today precisely because it is the Sabbath Day.

Immediately after the disciples confessed Him to be Christ, Jesus says to them: “It is written of the Son of Man that it is necessary that He suffer many things, be killed and on the third day rise again” (Mk 9:12 & 8:31). Of course, He is speaking of His Pascha; and, the Sabbath Rest of God is the heart of His Pascha. The WORD of God incarnate is buried in the Tomb and rests on the Sabbath Day from His mighty work of “finishing” the creation on the Cross (cf. Gn 2:3 and Jn 19:30), when He destroyed by His death the devil who brought death into the world (Wisd 1:24), and delivered in His Holy Resurrection those who their whole lifelong, through the fear of death, were in bondage to the devil” (Heb 2:14-15). The LORD saying, “Is it not necessary” shows that the woman’s healing is rooted in the mystery of His Sabbath Rest – i.e., in His Cross.

Is it not written that within His Sabbath Rest (cf. Gn 2:1-3) God created heaven and earth again (Gn 2:4); He formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life? (Gn 2:4-7) Is this not the mystery of His Holy Resurrection? And, is it not written that He built (oikodomeo) Eve from Adam’s rib (Gn 2:22 LXX)? Did He not build (oikodomeo) His Church (cf. Mat 16:18) from the blood and water that poured forth from His side on the Cross? (Gn 2:22; Jn 19:34)

So, now who is saying to the ruler of the synagogue, “Is it not necessary…?” I think it is altogether significant that this morning’s healing on the Sabbath is taking place in the synagogue. The synagogue was where the WORD of Scripture was rigorously studied. That means that the ruler was a disciple, a student of Moses and the prophets. But this Jesus, who now stands in the synagogue, in the midst of the scrolls containing the WORD of the LORD, is Himself that WORD; He is the One they are speaking about (cf. Jn 5:39 & 46). And here, teaching in the synagogue, on the Day of the Sabbath, that WORD speaks His WORD to the disciples of that WORD. It’s not a word as we think of a word. It is a mighty work of creation, of healing, of delivering and raising up from darkness and death to light and life (cf. Wisd 1:15). In the synagogue on the Sabbath, the WORD of God speaks and heals this woman. He makes her Orthodox; He makes her to stand up straight (an-orthe) and to glorify God (doxa).

Really to be a disciple of the Scriptures, then, one must be a disciple, a student of the LORD Jesus; for, He is the WORD of the Scriptures. He has become flesh and “pitched His tent, the temple of His Body,” among us (Jn 1:14), and now He goes about Galilee in the temple of His Body (Jn 2:19-21) – like the moving tabernacle of Moses that went with Israel through the wilderness – teaching and performing so many of His words, His mighty works of healing in synagogues on the Sabbath. Really to understand the Scriptures, one must read the WORD of the Scriptures in the Spirit of the prophets, the Spirit of the Father (Mt 16:17), in order to see this Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God; and to be led in the Paschal light of that confession into the mystery of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest before one’s mind is opened to see, according to the Scriptures, the meaning of the Sabbath: that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and rise on the third day (e.g., Lk 24:44-45 & Jn 20:6-9).

But, what is the meaning of the Sabbath’s Paschal meaning? This, I’m thinking, is the lesson of the LORD’s healing of this woman on the Day of the Sabbath in the synagogue. The Sabbath is the Day of God’s Sabbath Rest in the Tomb, the Font of our Resurrection, the “Beginning” in which the New Heavens and the New Earth are made (Gn 1:1, Jn 1:1; Rev 21:1). The Sabbath, then, is all about the Cross by which God destroys death by His death and gives life to those in the tombs. It is all about the final, the “finished” or “perfected” healing of the world; and that is why it is necessary that this woman be delivered from Satan’s chains on the Sabbath and made – created anew – so that she can stand up straight (an-orthe) and glorify (doxa) God – so that she can become “Orthodox”. But one doesn’t come into the Resurrection except through the Sabbath Rest of God – i.e., one is not united to Christ in the likeness of His Resurrection except by uniting oneself to Christ in the likeness of His death.

I think it therefore most necessary to consider why this ruler of the synagogue has failed to learn the deeper meaning of the Sabbath. It means he is a disciple of his own opinions, and not of the WORD of Scripture. For, what does the WORD of Scripture, the LORD Jesus Christ, teach His disciples? “Whoever would be My disciple, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me.” A disciple of the WORD of God, the LORD Jesus Christ, doesn’t just read Scripture to talk or write articles and books about it. He denies himself, takes up his cross, and follows Him – where? Into His Resurrection by way of His death on the Cross and His Sabbath Rest in the Tomb!

Dear faithful: listen to the WORD of the Church calling out to us even now: the Theotokos herself, the Glorious Gate through which human thoughts may not pass, as she enters into the Temple and into the place none may enter, she herself urges us, it says, “To enter with her that we may delight in her divine marvels (FM 171&175). Where is this “place” that none may enter that we are yet called to enter on the Feast of her Entry into the Temple? It is, of course, the Holy of Holies; but the Church’s liturgical symbolism makes clear that it is the mystery of the Cave of Bethlehem, the Tomb of Pascha! “Raising our minds on high,” it says, “let us go in spirit to Bethlehem, and with the eyes of our soul, let us look upon the Virgin as she hastens to give birth to our God!” (FM 201) I’m thinking the Holy of Holies and the Cave and the Tomb are the mystery of God’s Sabbath Rest to which all are called, but which none may enter but the faithful, as we read in Hebrews, (cf. Heb chptrs 3&4), i.e., those who deny themselves and unite themselves to Christ in the tomb of His Sabbath Rest.

Can you see how our hastening to Bethlehem with the shepherds and wise men joins us to the myrrh-bearing women hastening to the Tomb to see Christ coming forth from the Tomb as the “firstborn of the dead?” (Col 1:18), if we do as the Church urges us? Do you see that the Cave of Bethlehem merges into the Tomb, and the Tomb into the Cave? Enter the Cave and come into the LORD’s Tomb. Come into the Tomb – the font of your baptism – and you are born of the Virgin (the Church) and the Spirit as a child of God!

But, the Cave and the Tomb open in the Spirit onto the mystery of Christ in you (Col 1:27); the Kingdom of God that is within you (Lk 17:21). That makes your body a temple of God and your heart a sanctuary. Urging us to enter with her into the cave, the Virgin is urging us to enter the sanctuary of our heart and to offer ourselves to Christ as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1), and to unite ourselves to Christ in the likeness of His death, and so enter the place none may enter but the faithful: His Sabbath Rest, the Font of our Resurrection to eternal life in the Garden of His Most Holy Resurrection.

This is why we prepare for the Feast by fasting with our stomachs, our eyes, our ears, our hands and feet. We do not enter the inner, living reality of the Feasts – the mystery of Christ’s Pascha – through mere belief or feeling. It is necessary for us to take up the cross given to us, the fast of the Church in prayer and almsgiving, the keeping of Christ’s commandments not just in our outer man, but first and foremost in our inner man! It is the cross that enables us to lay hold of what’s earthly in us – our vanity, our conceit, our greed – in a concrete way. The fast is how we flee from the corruption that is in the world through lust (II Pt 1:4) not in mere “belief” – this is the way of spiritual delusion – but in a concrete, tangible way that makes Christ incarnate in our soul and body. By taking up the Cross of the Church’s ascetic disciplines, the power of Christ’s Cross becomes active in us and it transfigures our daily dying into our entrance into the Sabbath Rest of God, the Gate by which we enter His Holy Resurrection. This is what it means to be a disciple of the LORD. Amen!