Sunday’s scriptures taught us big lessons about what makes God happy on the Sabbath. We heard from from Isaiah:
If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail. . .
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
(selections from Isaiah 58:9b — 14, emphasis added)
Someone jokingly said after service that I might not want to read that particular scripture on a Bronco’s Sunday. But it really isn’t a joke, is it? We value our Sunday time, and not especially because it is the day we set aside to worship God. We value Sunday time because we (those who attend church) typically have the day off, and there aren’t a lot of things that are expected of us.
I wonder what it would be like if all people really did take delight in the sabbath. I think there would be a whole lot less complaining about things that didn’t matter so much (“service was too long,” “my children just don’t enjoy the service,” “I didn’t like the music,” “the music was too fast/too slow/too loud”). What would it be like if we just really took delight in the Lord?!
Jesus is up against some complainers as well in our scripture reading from Luke:
Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing (Luke 13:10-17).
His point is clear here — rather than being concerned about pointing fingers about what is “right” and what is “wrong” to do on the Sabbath, we need to be more concerned with loving one another. What Jesus did, although “against” sabbath restrictions, was MERCIFUL.
When I was a child growing up in the church, I was reminded time and again that there was proper behavior for church. Jeans were inappropriate, as were t-shirts and tennis shoes. Children were expected to be silent during the service, and at least in my family you had to sit up straight in the pews. These are a little different than the “Sabbath Laws” that the synagogue leader was pointing to, but it’s about the most parallel thing I can come up with in my own life. The parallel is that people were very concerned with “Looking holy” rather than “Being holy.”
Truly being holy seems to be the real key to these sabbath laws, and Jesus recognizes this.
It wasn’t a new concept, because the Isaiah readings were written somewhere around 800 years before Jesus was even born, and in this whole section of Isaiah there is a lot of commentary about God being unhappy with how God’s people were observing the sabbath. God says, in no uncertain terms, that just “Looking holy” is not enough. In fact, “Looking holy” irritates God (Amos 5:21 also says it pretty clearly, “I hate, I detest your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me”).
In the particular reading above (chap 58) there’s a pretty easy list of how to make God happy on the Sabbath:
remove the yoke from among you
stop pointing your fingers at each other
stop speaking evil
offer your food to the hungry
satisfy the needs of the afflicted
don’t trample on the sabbath
don’t pursue your own interests on the sabbath
call the sabbath a delight
don’t go “your own way” on the sabbath
don’t serve your own interest on the sabbath
don’t pursue your own affairs on the sabbath
Well, I guess I wouldn’t call it an “easy” list, but it certainly does help us to see it again is list form. Each of these actions/mindsets have to do with being merciful and looking to the interests of others rather than being solely focused on “self.”
So this big controversy of Jesus healing the woman has to do with being HOLY by being MERCIFUL. Wouldn’t you, Jesus asks, do the same for your pet or your livestock? Why not this woman, who has suffered for so long?
Friends, as we look at how we live our everyday lives, I feel we should be practicing all these actions that are pleasing to God. Let’s not keep them limited to the sabbath (although honestly that would be a pretty great start); let’s practice them every single day.
We could be living in holy times if we kept just those things as our focus.
May you find delight in worshiping the Lord in these ways: by practicing your acts of mercy; and focusing less on trying to “look holy.”