The Deeper Purpose of the Sabbath
“This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”
Many times throughout his ministry, Jesus found himself in arguments about the Sabbath. For Jews, including Jesus, the Sabbath was a central facet of their religious and national identity. God had told them to set aside the seventh day for rest. This rest required the cessation of work. Yet, there was debate among Jewish theologians and teachers about exactly what sort of work was permitted even on the Sabbath. It would not have been wrong, for example, for someone to work on the seventh day in order to save the life of another person.
In Luke 13:10-17, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath day. Seeing a woman who had been crippled because of an evil spirit, Jesus had compassion on the woman. He laid his hands upon her and proclaimed that she was set free from her infirmity. Though she was delighted, the ruler of the synagogue was miffed because Jesus had healed—which is to say, worked—on the Sabbath. He urged Jesus to heal only on the other days of the week.
Jesus responded by rebuking this man and his comrades. After all, they do certain kinds of “work” on the Sabbath, such as untying their animals and leading them to water (13:16). Why not do the “work” of healing? Jesus said: “This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” (13:17).
Of course, if you think of it, Jesus really didn’t do much work on the Sabbath. He laid his hands on the woman and announced her healing. But the actual work of deliverance and healing was done by the power of God. In a very real sense, it was God who was working on the Sabbath.
This story can seem distant from our experience today. I don’t have space here to talk about how Christians might honor the Sabbath. But it’s important for us to see that the deeper purpose of the Sabbath was healing and wholeness. Whatever “work” was required to set the woman free from her crippling illness was acceptable. In fact, God did it. As we think about how we might step back from our work in order to enjoy the rest of Sabbath, we should understand that God’s purpose is not legalistic observance, but, rather, our wholeness as his people.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you consider the Sabbath as something significant in your life? Why or why not? Do you think you might be able to experience more of God’s healing power if you set aside time each week for rest, reflection, and the enjoyment of God’s presence?
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, thank you for your compassion for the woman in Luke 13. Thank you for healing her, even though it got you into hot water with the authorities. Thank you for helping us to see the deeper purpose of the Sabbath.
Lord, for many of us today, the whole notion of Sabbath is foreign. We recoil at some of the legalisms that surround the keeping of this day. Yet, when we see that the Sabbath was a day for healing, we wonder how we might experience this kind of Sabbath in our lives. Teach us, Lord!
More broadly, help us to get our priorities right when it comes to our religious observances. Keep us from being so concerned about our practices and traditions that we fail to bring healing to the sick and love to the unloved. Amen.