open conversation: what’s the Sabbath for?
Are there things you do 6 days you don’t do on Sunday? Or 7th days if your Sabbath isn’t Sunday?
For Jews in Jesus’ day, there were two views of Sabbath, and in some ways we can look at this text as a bit of a clash between them:
in Exodus 20’s version of the 10 commandments Sabbath is about rest, refraining from work, based on God’s example in the creation stories. We might see the synagogue leader as enforcing this understanding of torah, seriously and pretty literally, the sort of conservative view: God said it, God did it, that’s good enough for me.
The second is based on Deuteronomy’s version: where the reason for Sabbath is to remember God’s rescue of the people from slavery, so that Sabbath rest brought parity to all who were still enslaved, their wives, their servants, their animals. We might see this second view in Jesus’ argument, that the deeper intent of the law was human well-being. If keeping the law stops you from caring for someone in need, you break the law and you’ll really have fulfilled it.
The reason I think this was the Sabbath understanding of Jesus is that he uses so many words about bondage and freedom: set free, untie, bound, set free from this bondage
And he takes it further: by speaking to the woman, and healing her, and touching her, and calling her ‘daughter of Abraham’, he indicates that Sabbath is not just about rescue, but about restoration—bringing her back into full community.
And all this leads not just this unnamed woman, but the whole company, the watching world around them, to praise God for what they could see happening right in front of them, not just way back in history.
Down the centuries, Christians began to celebrate the concept of Sabbath on Sunday, instead of the Jewish Saturday, emphasizing the rescue and restoration that Jesus’ Sunday resurrection brings, the freedom from the fear of death that we now have so that we can share that Christian courage with others. And so that we can remember what God has done for us in the past, and reflect on what God is doing right now in front of us. What can we rejoice about that God is doing?
Spending time with this story led me this week to contemplate how I too am bent over.
How the leader of the synagogue is bent over
How even our religious system is bent over and bound by rules and regulations about what’s right and what’s wrong, who’s in and who’s out…so narrowly focused that it’s crippled in terms of basic care for neighbor…. Crippled religious and political systems that cover up mistakes, bury abuse under bureaucracy, keeps people from the freedom of being who they truly are for fear of exposure.
Hmmm….enough there for you to reflect on for a month of Sundays!
Over the centuries we have tried to retain the celebration of Sabbath as a core part of our Christian identity as it is for Jews.
But right now we are very close to having lost that identifier. And that loss can be closely linked with our increased stress. A book I’m reading on stress and spirituality says:
Sunday, once esteemed as a day of rest to honor the godliness of creation, is now merely a day to get caught up with shopping, errands and work, before the deluge starts all over again on Monday. (Stand like Mountain, Flow like Water)
I hope you’ve heard my emphasis on the R words,
Rest, rescue, restoration, remember, reflect
but also on the SO THAT of Sabbath—we are people who are freed FOR something. Luke has more emphasis on these conflicts of Sabbath rules than the other gospels. Only Luke has Jesus coming as a proclaimer of Jubilee, a Sabbath of Sabbaths: the year set for good news to the poor release to the captives, recovering of sight for the blind freedom for the oppressed
That’s the answer to “What’s the sabbath for?” which brings me to the question
How do we practice Sabbath?
How do you rest, rescue, remember, reflect, rejoice, restore?
write down those R words
Rest rescue remember reflect rejoice restore
Now challenge yourself this week to practice Sabbath in SOME way this week SO THAT you can practice giving good news to the poor SO THAT you can practice releasing those who are bound by something SO THAT you can receive or offer new sight or insight to someone SO THAT you work to free the oppressed, not work at oppressing others.
Here’s some ideas, pick one and try it this week:
Fast one day from computer, tv, texting, video game
Start a rejoicing journal, naming daily some things you recognize God is doing
Sit still enough, in quiet enough, to reflect for 10 minutes each day
Stop. Just stop, several times a day and ask, how is what I’m doing now freeing or oppressing my soul or that of another?
May the watching world rejoice at all the wonderful things we and God are doing.