The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Luke 13:10-17

 


WHEN I WAS STATIONED AT FORT LEWIS, WASHINGTON, MY DEPUTY WAS AN ORTHODOX RABBI FROM BROOKLYN. NOW BEING AN ORTHODOX RABBI IN THE ARMY IS A DIFFICULT THING, TRYING TO KEEP THE LAW AND APPEASE THE ARMY AT THE SAME TIME. THERE WERE ONLY 11 RABBIS IN THE WHOLE ARMY, SO HAVING ONE AT FORT LEWIS FOR THE JEWISH TROOPS WAS A GOOD THING, BUT IT PUT A LOT OF PRESSURE ON HIM, AND ON ME, AS I HAD TO RUN INTERFERENCE FOR HIM A LOT. HE HIRED A GENTILE SOLDIER TO TURN HIS LIGHTS ON AND OFF ON THE SABBATH, AND, AS A SMOKER, HE HAD TO GET SOMEONE TO LIGHT HIS CIGARETTES ON FRIDAY NIGHTS AND SATURDAYS. I DID ALL I COULD TO HELP HIM STAY FAITHFUL TO HIS OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE LAW, WHICH WERE A BURDEN FOR HIM, AND WHICH HE APPRECIATED. WHENEVER HE WENT BACK HOME, HE WOULD BRING ME A BIG SACK OF BAGELS FROM BROOKLYN, AND WE REMAINED GOOD FRIENDS UNTIL HIS DEATH A FEW YEARS AGO.

IN THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY, WE CAN EASILY MISTAKE THE INTENT OF THE PASSAGE AS JESUS DISREGARDING THE OPPRESSIVE LAW AS EXEMPLIFIED BY THE RULER OF THE SYNAGOGUE, BUT THIS WOULD BE A SIMPLISTIC AND WRONG INTERPRETATION. ALTHOUGH LUKE WAS WRITING TO A GENTILE READER, AND IS THE MOST GENTILE ORIENTED OF THE GOSPELS, LUKE MAKES EVERY EFFORT TO DEMONSTRATE THAT JESUS WAS A FAITHFUL AND OBSERVANT JEW. CONSIDER HIS RECOUNTING OF JESUS’ GENEALOGY AT THE START OF HIS GOSPEL, HIS ACCOUNT OF THE BIRTH OF JESUS, THE STORY OF JESUS BEING BROUGHT TO THE TEMPLE ON THE EIGHT DAY AFTER HIS BIRTH FOR CIRCUMCISION, AND HIS EARTHY PARENTS MAKING THE DOVE SACRIFICE. IN NO WAY CAN WE CONSIDER THAT JESUS WAS OPPOSED TO THE LAW OF GOD, OR, INDEED, DISRESPECTFUL OF THE SABBATH.

THERE ARE TWO INTERPRETATIONS REGARDING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE SABBATH. THE FIRST IS OF COURSE THE ACCOUNT IN GENESIS WHEN GOD CREATED EVERYTHING THAT IS IN SIX DAYS, THEN RESTED ON THE SEVENTH. THIS IMPLIES AN OBLIGATION TO REST FROM ALL WORK ON THE SEVENTH DAY, THE SABBATH. THE OTHER TRADITION HEARKENS BACK TO THE EXODUS, WHEN GOD FREED HIS PEOPLE FROM THEIR SLAVERY IN EGYPT, WHERE THEY WORKED WITHOUT PAY FOR HARSH MASTERS SEVEN DAYS A WEEK. WHEN THEY WERE LED INTO THE PROMISED LAND, THE SABBATH WAS ESTABLISHED BY GOD TO REMIND THEM OF THE GIFT OF THEIR FREEDOM. IN THIS INTERPRETATION THE SABBATH IS A GIFT FROM GOD; A CELEBRATION NOT AN OBLIGATION.

THE POOR WOMAN WHO WAS SO BENT OVER THAT THE ONLY THING SHE COULD SEE WERE HER FEET, WAS, IT MUST BE INFERRED, A FAITHFUL MEMBER OF THE SYNAGOGUE; SHE WAS IN THE CROWD WHICH GATHERED TO HEAR JESUS SPEAK. SHE COULD ONLY LOOK SIDEWAYS, AND PROBABLY WAS LOST IN THE CROWD BEING SO BENT OVER. YET, JESUS SAW HER AND CALLED HER TO HIM. HIS WORDS TO HER WERE, “WOMAN, YOU ARE SET FREE FROM YOUR AILMENT.” WHEN HE LAID HIS HANDS ON HER, SHE STOOD UP STRAIGHT AND BEGAN TO PRAISE GOD. THE LEADER OF THE SYNAGOGUE OBJECTED TO WHAT JESUS DID, AND BEFORE WE JUDGE HIM TOO HARSHLY, WE MUST CONSIDER THAT HE WAS RIGHT; YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO ANY WORK ON THE SABBATH. HE, OF COURSE, WAS INTERPRETING THE SABBATH AS THE OBLIGATION TO GOD TO DO NO WORK. JESUS, HOWEVER, INTERPRETS THE SABBATH AS THE CELEBRATION OF THE GIFT OF FREEDOM WHICH COMES FROM GOD, WHICH IS WHY HIS WORDS TO THE WOMAN ARE, “YOU ARE SET FREE.” HE CHASTISES THOSE WHO SEE THE SABBATH AS OBLIGATION, SINCE EVEN THOSE WILL WATER THEIR ANIMALS ON THE SABBATH.

JESUS DOES NOT OPPOSE OR BREAK THE LAW, HE, IN HIS GRACE AND MERCY, FULFILLS IT BY HEALING THE WOMAN AND RESTORING HER TO HER PLACE IN THE COMMUNITY AS A DAUGHTER OF ABRAHAM. THE DAY OF REST IS A REMINDER OF GOD’S GRACE AND MERCY, AND THE BEST WAY TO CELEBRATE IT IS TO SHOW GRACE AND MERCY TO OTHERS. ELSEWHERE, JESUS WILL SAY THAT THE SABBATH WAS MADE FOR MAN, NOT MAN FOR THE SABBATH. THE LAW OF GOD IS ETERNAL, YET THE LAW IS THE GIFT OF GOD’S GRACE, SO THE LETTER OF THE LAW MUST ALWAYS GIVE WAY TO MERCY, TO LOVE, AND TO SET OTHERS FREE.

THE EARLY APOSTLES UNDERSTOOD THIS, WHICH IS WHY, AFTER PENTECOST, THEY MOVED THE DAY OF WORSHIP FROM THE SABBATH, THE LAST DAY OF THE WEEK, TO SUNDAY, THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK; THE DAY OF RESURRECTION. WHAT THEY WERE SAYING BY DOING THIS IS THAT THE GRACE AND LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS IS THE FULFILLMENT OF THE LAW, AND THE FULLEST EXPRESSION OF THE LAW OF GOD IS TO LOVE GOD IN CHRIST ABOVE ALL THINGS, AND TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS AS OURSELVES.

TO COME HERE TO WORSHIP AS AN OBLIGATION IS MEANINGLESS. WE COME HERE TO WORSHIP AS A CELEBRATION OF GOD’S LOVE AND MERCY TO US, AND TO EQUIP US, TO STRENGTHEN US, TO INSPIRE US SO THAT WE MIGHT BETTER LIVE OUT HIS LOVE AND MERCY BY LOVING AND SHOWING MERCY TO OTHERS. WE ARE FREED FROM THE FEAR OF DEATH, AND FROM ALL THE THINGS WHICH WOULD KEEP US BOUND IN THE CHAINS OF SIN, AND IN THAT FREEDOM WE ARE CALLED TO SET FREE ALL THOSE WHO REMAIN BOUND.

THE QUESTION OF WHETHER TURNING THE LIGHT SWITCH ON OR OFF IS WORK THAT VIOLATES THE SABBATH, OR NOT BEING LAWFUL TO LIGHT A FIRE, BUT LAWFUL TO SMOKE, IS REALLY SPLITTING HAIRS. LAWFUL TO WATER YOUR ANIMALS, BUT UNLAWFUL TO HEAL THE SICK IS A VERY INWARDLY FOCUSED INTERPRETATION OF WHAT KEEPING THE SABBATH HOLY MEANS, AND A DISTORTION OF THE LAW OF GOD.

SO OF COURSE JESUS HEALS ON THE SABBATH. OF COURSE THE WOMAN PRAISES GOD FOR HER FREEDOM. OF COURSE THE CROWD REJOICES. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS STILL WHEN THE LAW OF GOD IS FULFILLED IN MERCY, GRACE, AND LOVE. THIS IS HOW THE SABBATH IS KEPT HOLY. AS THE FOLLOWERS OF THE CHRIST OF GOD, THIS IS OUR CALLING.
AMEN