Just imagine for a moment. It’s the Sabbath day and you are in the synagogue-the usual people are all around you including that sad woman who has suffered some sort of curvature of the spine for 18 years. That’s a long time-best part of a life you might say-certainly 18 is a significant number in the Bible.
Still it’s the Sabbath and that matters especially in Israel-then and now. Putting my 21st century hat on for a moment I didn’t realise how much it mattered until I saw the pillar boxes in modern Israel. Just like pillar boxes or post boxes at home albeit painted in a different colour. You see they have special lids or moveable slits that can be adjusted and locked on a Friday so that nobody can post any mail on a Saturday. In this way the Israeli post office respects the Sabbath day the day in Israel when no work of any kind is done in obedience to scripture of course-the day God rested from his work of creation. The Sabbath is the day of days when Israel stops and when Jews in Israel and elsewhere devote themselves to prayer and reflection.
This is a time of blessings. One of Israel’s special gifts to the wisdom of the world.
But into this tranquil and prayerful scene there comes a new presence- a new teaching and new teacher. His name is Jesus and he sees the woman, calls her, lays his hands on her and declares her free of her disease. She straightens up and praises God. This is a sensational moment and sensationalism isn’t what the synagogue is supposed to be about especially not on the Sabbath. The ruler of the synagogue looks at Jesus from his own particular human point of view. He is cross. He sees Jesus as the breaker of tradition, a threat to good order, a disturber of the peace of the synagogue on the Sabbath.
Where I think the ruler of the synagogue is going wrong is that he has made the good the enemy of the best-the besetting sin of all bureaucrats; especially Church bureaucrats. The Sabbath is about rest and recreation. Who needed that most? Why the woman! She was ground down by eighteen years of suffering-weary and washed out. Jesus gave her rest. He gave her a true Sabbath. To the grumblers he says –give it a rest! Give it a rest so that she can have a real Sabbath. And the people praise God. The recognise Jesus as the one who brings in healing power to those who need it most. Praise and thanksgiving should always be the churches response to Jesus.
Jesus is God’s makeover for the world. God made the world and he made it good and not only good but holy as well. When Jesus acts to make the crooked straight or to still the raging of the elements it is no wonder that people give glory to him. God in Jesus has entered our world so that it and everything in it might be given a rest: saved, restored and perfected. He comes to bring us a new Sabbath.
Turning aside from this fist century scene to our own time we might ask ourselves whether we stand in special need of a Sabbath rest to-day.
A setting aside of special times is something that our culture seems to have lost except at Christmas. In any case we feast all the year round and fast for no one. We work 24/7. We go shopping even when we are at home we go shopping thanks to Amazon.com. We expect the help line to be manned all the time and the corner shop to be open round the clock irrespective of the welfare and interests of those who give the service. In many ways I regret the coming of the kind of country we seem to have become.
Nothing must get in the way of getting and spending and the pressure upon us all leaves us as crooked and burdened as the poor woman in the passage. So we need Jesus makeover as much as she did and we need a rest from consumerism if we are not to be consumed ourselves. We need to be straightened out and set free from the burdens that have left us crooked. Jesus has come to make us all straight-we crooked people in a crooked world.
I think this a message that people are more and more willing to hear. A week or two ago I read about a rail strike by workers at Eurostar who are seeking a better life/work balance. That sounds like Sabbath to me-not that such a word can safely be used.
Once God rested on the Sabbath but now God in Jesus resumes His work on the very same day. It’s not as if the teaching about the Sabbath in scripture, including our first reading, is being ignored or dismissed. On the contrary it’s being affirmed. Jesus is continuing God’s work in the world by putting the world to rights.
So the people of God in the synagogue are an example for us. They rejoice that God is indeed at work in the world and we should rejoice with them. Together with God we could bring and praise and thanksgiving back to the world-the crooked could be made straight and the world released from Satan’s bondage.
If we can really begin to truly praise our maker we can be released to be the people we were always meant to be and then we can find ourselves playing our part in Christ’s makeover of the world-the best work of the Sabbath.