Sabbath-Keeping – August 25, 2019

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Last week, I mentioned that 7% of our 24-hour day is available for us to do as we want… 1 hour and 42 minutes of our day… 1 hour and 42 minutes in which you did not have to work, to care for others, to do housework or homework – 1 hour and 42 minutes to use any way you’d want to… How would you like to use that “free time”?

Reading, napping, forgotten hobbies, connecting with others… these are great uses of our free time. 

If I said that I was giving you 1 hour and 42 minutes of “Sabbath” time. Are these the activities you would choose? How are we “supposed” to use our Sabbath time?

The word Sabbath literally means to rest and God’s commandment given to Moses stated plainly: Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8) so wouldn’t napping be an appropriate use of the Sabbath? 

 From the beginning of time, we as human beings have struggled with this 4th commandment – how do we “keep” the Sabbath? What day do we mark as the Sabbath day? What activities are appropriate for the Sabbath and which are not? 

In Orthodox Judaism, the rules for Shabbat are clear: no cooking, no driving, no washing clothes, constructing, repairing, writing, making a fire, cutting, fishing, and so on. Instead of doing these things, we are to spend time with our families, spend our time in prayer, spend our time in worship and in giving thanks to God. 

As a Jewish man, Jesus understood this way of remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy. But, as he does on many occasions, Jesus takes this idea of Sabbath-keeping and turns it on its head. He comes to the religious community and says, “I know you’ve been doing things this way for a long time… but there is a new way, a different way, to give glory to God in our everyday lives…” 

Jesus is a master-teacher in this respect – his rhetorical style of interpreting the scriptures is amazing  and complex.  In his Sermon on the Mount, for example, Jesus takes the Jewish Law and reinterprets it for his followers: “You have heard that it was said…” he began in each statement quoting from the Torah, and then he would twist the teaching into something new.As in Matthew 5: 38-39:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. 

And our scene from our scripture is like an additional example of this method:

“You have heard that it was said, do nothing but praise God on the Sabbath, but I tell you, unless you break the Sabbath, you are not keeping the Sabbath.”

And this woman presented him an opportunity to show them HOW to keep the Sabbath. Jesus broke the rules for this woman, so she must be important…

So who was she? Why did Jesus go to extremes to help her? What do we know about her from our text from Luke, chapter 13?

We know she was a female, a person of diminished value in the ancient world, and she was ill. She had been afflicted with a mystery ailment for 18 long years! But Jesus gives us a hint as to this woman’s background: In verse 16, he calls this woman “a daughter of Abraham.” And the description of the woman as daughter of Abraham is placed first in the Greek sentence in a position of importance, a position of emphasis. (1) She was a member of the chosen people, a recipient of the promise God made to Abraham – that he would make the descendants of Abraham as numerous as the stars in the sky! This woman is a part of that legacy, a part of that promise. Thus the promise to Abraham will only be realized through acts of restoration and healing, which includes reinstating people like this bent woman.

Her “ailment” or illness is described literally as “a spirit of weakness” (v. 11 and 12) What has weakened her? What has made her incapacitated? Whatever it was it had been with her for 18 years. That’s a long time. Enough time to get used to the idea that this was going to be the WAY THINGS WERE. This is it! 

So why heal her at that moment? Why was it necessary to heal her on the Sabbath? What difference would a few hours make? Why heal her on the Sabbath day and purposely cause all the conflict with the keepers of the law?

In his book Between Noon and Three author Robert Capon writes:

“…his breaking of the Sabbath seems pointless and unnecessary. He is not performing a good deed that, if delayed, would become unperformable. …Why in God’s good name can’t Jesus wait out the afternoon and cure [her] without flying in the face of the Torah? Why can’t he sit with [her] till sunset and use the time to fix the [wo]man’s mind on the graciousness of God? Why can’t they search the Scriptures together and set the stage so that the healing will be seen in all its unquestionable rightness? What is the point?”(2)

The point of the healing, the point of the “work” on the Sabbath, was for Jesus to transform the idea of the Sabbath (What was the Sabbath for?) and to demonstrate the power of God to “set free all who are oppressed.”

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus spends his Sabbath day differently, but in his actions he sets the stage for THIS Sabbath interaction. The story comes from Luke 4:16-20:

16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. (He is following the rules so far…) He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because he has anointed me

        to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

    and recovery of sight to the blind,

        to let the oppressed go free,

19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. (They should have known he would be stirring up trouble…)

As Jesus heals the woman he says, “You have been set free (apoluo) from your weakness/sickness” in verse 12. The word used here for “healing” ( apoluo) is not usually associated with healing. Its general meaning is “to release” or “send away.” It is closely related to a word (luo) used twice in our text by Jesus: to “untie” an ox or donkey (v. 15) and to “set free” from bondage (v. 16). (3)

SO, here in this act, Jesus is fulfilling his understanding of his mission – as prophesied by Jeremiah – to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

This woman, bent-over with weakness for 18 long years, was bound by her weakness and Jesus set her free to return to a position of strength! In this act, he was affirming her value, her worth as a “daughter of Abraham” as a member of the family. “You are free!” he proclaimed and she was released from her bondage. 

What keeps us bound? It may not be an illness, but it may be something that makes us weak. What keeps us oppressed and enslaved? What do we need to be free from? 

On the Sabbath, Jesus tells us and shows us that we should to help free people in bondage. What if that were the guiding principle of our Sabbath day? How can we help people be the people they were created to be?  How can we liberate ourselves from the fears, the challenges and the worries that have kept us locked up? How can we use our Sabbath to glorify God by loving God’s people?

By freeing others, by allowing others to be who THEY are – beloved children of God – we free ourselves and our communities and that freedom, that liberty rings like a BELL throughout the world! 

This week – on Wednesday – we mark the 55th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom: a march that demanded the freedom for God’s children in the African American community. But that march was not just for “them” it was for us all – for as Paul wrote the Corinthian church so many years ago… he wrote:

But God has put the body together… so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12: 25-26)

Let us keep the Sabbath by glorifying God  through loving service to his children. Let us keep the Sabbath by freeing ourselves from all that binds us and by helping others be released from the ties that bind them. When we do this, God is pleased with our Sabbath-keeping. I will conclude as Dr. Martin Luther King concluded his speech 55 years ago, with hope for and anticipation of the Kingdom of God…

“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!””

  1. Brian Stoffregen found on
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.