The leader of the synagogue was indignant when Jesus introduced the new reality of healing on the Sabbath. Exactly what is a new reality?
A rich man and his wife died in an accident and went to heaven. They were past 85 and in good health because of her interest in diet foods and daily exercise. They were given a lavish apartment close to the golf course, a fishing lake, and a great community building with a daily buffet for everybody.
The dinner buffet was loaded with rich, buttery, creamy, fat-filled foods of all kinds, chocolate desserts you wouldn’t believe. Their angel said they could eat all they wanted, and play golf, fish in the lake, on and on.”Everything? Eat everything?”
The angel kept saying, “Yes, eat all you want.”
Suddenly the man ripped off his hat, got red faced and raised his voice to his wife:
“If it hadn’t been for your low-fat bran muffins and that daily workout, we would’ve been here 10 years ago.” They had entered a new reality.
The leader of the synagogue was not favorably impressed when Jesus showed that healing somebody was more important than a law against working on the Sabbath. Jesus called him a hypocrite. The presiding officer of the synagogue took seriously his role of being the protector of public morals and ritual righteousness. There was no provision in synagogue worship for healing because healing was, and is, a work.
Work, of course, on the Sabbath is forbidden by the commandment handed down from Moses, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.” We all memorized that if we grew up in the Lutheran tradition. But Jesus, who was more interested in people than in scrupulous attention to the law, went ahead and did the work of healing right there in the midst of worship on the Sabbath. Jesus scolded the leader of the synagogue and the people gathered there by reminding them that they probably worked on the Sabbath without realizing that breach of conduct.
When they put a rope on an animal to lead it to water, then the handling of a rope, the knot tying and untying, was really an act of forbidden work If this story were a 19th century play, the ruler would have made some sweeping motion and appeared about to collapse while calling for some smelling salts because “I feel faint.”
But Jesus was serious and the ruler of the synagogue was scandalized. He would not back away from this serious breach of etiquette, law, and habit.
Sometimes habit can blind us to reality. When a certain pastor accepted a call to a congregation in Minnesota, he wrote in a commentary for other pastors that his chief work was to help the congregation understand a new reality, which was that the next year would not be 1980. That’s right, that next year would not be 1980. He said the congregation believed they are still in their great heyday of 25 or 30 years ago. The bills were paid and people seemed content. However, they had not faced their new reality of a changing neighborhood, the aging of the congregation, and the popularity of Sunday sports sponsored by the city’s recreation department.
In just such ways, many of us do not see great realities of Jesus as told in the New Testament. In the synagogue, Jesus displayed a new reality — and the leader was unwilling to see it. How many times did Jesus challenge his listeners with a totally new and different way of looking at God? How many times did Jesus say, “The last will be first, and the first will be last?” Talk about a new reality!
Or consider the reality of the waiting father who received his prodigal sun and declared a feast in honor of his return. When Paul wrote to the congregations he had visited, he reminded them again and again that because God was in Jesus Christ, everything is reversed. The unlovely are loved. Sinners are forgiven. Reprobates are given another chance, and the down-and-out losers are picked up because God makes winners of us all.
The new reality is that some who have been important will be denied any special privilege on the Day of Judgment and– many who have been nobodies in this world will be told to move to the head table for that great banquet in heaven. The last will be first, and the first will be last. Many are called, but few are chosen. Tax collectors and prostitutes will go into the kingdom of heaven before the self-righteous. And whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.
These statements all introduce a new reality, and from that point that we have to look at Jesus healing the woman in the synagogue.
The leader of the synagogue protested that there were doctors and healers who did what they could, and their ministrations were considered work. People who wished to be religious did not work on the Sabbath. In the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy, Moses tells what the Sabbath is all about for the people of God.
“You shall remember that you were a servant in the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought you out. Therefore the Lord commanded you to keep the Sabbath Day.” How does their deliverance get connected with the Sabbath? The children of Israel were to celebrate forever their deliverance from slavery in Egypt.
Since the history of God’s people is our history, the Sabbath is still our celebration of God delivering us from whatever troubles we are in. There’s nothing wrong with work. Religious people realize that what we do in life, our daily work, is a calling from God. The Sabbath reminds us forever of God’s power to deliver us from burdens and cares. The Sabbath lifts our eyes beyond this world to see heavenly love and heavenly power. Most of us know we need God for help and relief. We know what it is to walk in darkness, and to need a new light.
St. Paul had many fears and troubles, many burdens and worries. Yet, because he had been given a vision of the resurrected Christ, the same Christ with whom we walk through this life, Paul said we ought to think of ourselves as having the treasure of God in an earthen vessel.
Even while we are burdened with the cares of this world, the power of God is at work in us. Paul gave us a new reality when he wrote, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair.
“We are persecuted, but not forsaken.
“We are struck down, but not destroyed because we carry in ourselves the death of Jesus, so that his new life may also be evident in us.”
Certainly we know what it is to be sick, weak, worried, frustrated, perplexed, burdened — and yet in the midst of all these burdens, do we know that God is still with us?
No one ever said life would be easier for the people of God. But we know Jesus overcame the final trouble of this world in his resurrection.
When we come together as God’s people on the Lord’s Day of resurrection, we celebrate the Lord’s victory over sin and death and the power of evil. The Resurrection is his victory over all those evil forces
His Risen Presence connects us with the power of God, who has promised that we also will share in the new reality of Jesus’ resurrection.
When we gather for worship every seven days, we are reliving the entire history of God’s people, all the way from Adam and Eve in the Garden right down to this moment of worship.
We come together to be refreshed by the faith that holds us up.
We come together as God’s family to rejoice over the new reality of God’s love in the midst of all our troubles. Jesus Christ, Lord over all, lives in us and we in him. He is Lord of the Sabbath.
We come to rejoice together that God is in charge, just as he has always watched over his people. We come together to take delight in the Lord, to give thanks for our ancestors who called on him were not disappointed.
Our new reality is that we celebrate ourselves as being the people of God in this place in year 2016.And if we are his people, then we will never again be afraid of anything. That is our new reality.
We do not look backward and long for those dear dead days to come again; we look forward and ask “What will our Lord have us do as we face the future?”