Sabbath Healing (Exodus 20:8-11 and Luke 13:10-17)
Sleep is something of a mystery. Even though we spend up to a third of our lives doing it, we know very little about the biological purpose of sleep. Thanks to the invention of some pretty sophisticated medical equipment we do know what happens when we don’t get enough sleep: we can’t form or maintain the pathways in our brain that enable us to learn and to make new memories. Without sufficient sleep, every part of our body suffers. Scientists believe that only during sleep does the brain perform its housekeeping chores, eliminating toxins that build up while we’re awake. Only when we’re asleep does our body heal the damage inflicted to our muscles, organs, even our very cells, during our waking hours. We might not understand all the ins and outs of sleep, but we know good, regular sleep, and enough of it, are critical to a healthy brain and body. Sleep rejuvenates us.
What does any of that have to do with our scripture?
Let’s back up. In Exodus, God commanded the Israelites to remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy or set apart from the other days of the week. They had six days to do their work; the seventh was to be a day of rest. After God had created everything, he reminded his children, he rested on the seventh day, not because he was tired but because his work was complete. He took the seventh day to look over his creation and admire it, pronouncing it good. And he named that day the Sabbath, the gift of a day of rest for his children. Was there still work to be done? Sure. But people are human, and sometimes we have to be reminded that we need a day off for our physical, mental, and spiritual health and renewal.
In Luke’s account, the synagogue ruler tried to use the fourth Commandment against Jesus. “There are six days for work,” he reminded the people. “So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” Jesus had paused in his teaching to free a woman who had been bound by an evil spirit for eighteen years. Could he have healed her any other day? Of course. But he saw her then, and rather than leaving her in bondage any longer, he healed her then. The synagogue ruler knew the law, but his interpretation might have been a little faulty. Was healing considered work for Jesus? “You hypocrites!” Jesus answered the ruler. “Don’t you untie your ox or donkey and lead it out of the stall to give it water on the Sabbath?” Why, then, would you leave this woman, who has been bound for eighteen years, in that bondage? Isn’t a child of God worth at least as much to you as a donkey?
Many of us are also in bondage, maybe not to an evil spirit but certainly to our schedules. To our workplace or our kids’ sports team. To our to-do list. To our cell phones or social media. To whatever we feel anxious about when we try to step away from it. The woman in the synagogue that day didn’t ask Jesus to heal her. She’d been in her condition for so long, she might have figured it was permanent. But Jesus saw her. He noticed her in the crowd, and he reached out to her, offering her healing and freedom. Jesus sees us, too, and he reaches out to us, offering us healing and freedom from whatever binds us. His healing is to our spirits what sleep is to our bodies: rejuvenation, a word that means to put new life into, to make young again. We need this desperately, even if we don’t admit it. God knows us. He knows that we would just continue living our regular lives seven days a week, so he gives us the Sabbath. Freedom. Healing. We need it and the rejuvenation Jesus offers us. Accept the gift.