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Thought for the week - 21 August

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD'S holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD.

The ruler of the synagogue was not best pleased that sabbath morning when Jesus came along and healed the woman who was bent double. Rather than recognize the power that Jesus possesses, or rejoicing that the woman has been healed he is indignant and says to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath." Not only is he telling Jesus off for working on the sabbath - if healing could be described as work - he is also warning the people. Don't come along to be healed on the sabbath, there are six other days in the week. The sabbath is for God, not for you.




But the people don't take any notice of the synagogue ruler. He doesn't get their sympathy or support. They are delighted at the wonder ful things Jesus has done. They recognize what they have seen and they know whose side they are on. The people in the synagogue have seen the woman coming to worship, shuffling along painfully to fulfil her religious duty on the sabbath. They probably know her well if she is a regular member of the congregation. They see Jesus spotting the woman in her affliction. Perhaps the ruler of the synagogue has simply ignored her over the years, regarding her as a bit of an embarrassment.


But Jesus spots her. And what happens next is entirely on Jesus' own initiative. There is no indication that the woman has come along to be healed. She has come simply to worship God. But Jesus sees her and calls her forward. "Woman," he said, you are set free from your infirmity." Notice the words - you are set free. That is the gift Jesus brings the gift of freedom.


The people see the woman straighten up. A burden has been lifted from her, she has been set free. She does what comes naturally to her. She doesn't thank Jesus for what he has done for her, she simply praises God. The God who, through Jesus has done a great thing for her. The people recognize what has happened and are delighted. Who wouldn't be. The woman has been freed from her burden. She has been made straight again. Put right.


Why can't the ruler of the synagogue join in the praise. Why is he so indignant? He presides over the worship in the synagogue; but fails to see that worship is all about praising God for the great things he has done. Surely here is a matter for praise. The gift of freedom that the healing touch of Jesus has brought to this woman.


Jesus demonstrates by his act of healing what the sabbath is really for. It is to bring a freedom so that we can worship God. It isn't about rules and regulations. What you can or cannot do. It is about freedom. But that freedom is not any old freedom. It is a freedom that leads to the praise of God.


Worship can be so easily overburdened with many rules and regulations. I suppose there have be rules to order the service correctly, certain structures for our worship. But those rules, those structures should never get in the way of the worship. Nor must worship be an end in itself. Worship if it really is to be worship has to be directed towards God.


Jesus sees this clearly. He also sees that the sabbath day isn't just about not working. The sabbath is about directing the whole of one's being towards God. In a sense Jesus isn't saying anything particularly new or startling. Isaiah said some similar things centuries earlier:


"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD'S holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD,"

For Isaiah the whole purpose of the sabbath day is to change the daily focus. It is a day to remember who you are and what you are for. We honour the sabbath by not going our own way, but God's way. There are those who have made a burden of the sabbath, or in Christian terms the Lord's Day. It was never meant, as Isaiah realized and as Jesus taught, to be a burden, but a joy. Sunday has always been my favourite day of the week, because it is to me a day that is focussed on God. Every day should be focussed on God, but there are always so many things to do and to think about. On Sunday we can be free to focus on God and on worship. That is what it is about. The crippled woman knew this. She had come to the synagogue to praise God, and now following her encounter with Jesus she had even greater reason to praise God. She had been given freedom and in that freedom the first thing she does is to praise God.

I suppose two general points can be drawn from all of this. The first is that. That through Jesus we can be relieved of so many of the burdens that cripple us. That in him there is a freedom. Another name for that freedom is forgiveness of sin. The second point is that our worship, our observance of Sunday, the whole of our religious duty is about joy - joy in the Lord. That what was Jesus brought to the woman when he said "You are set free from your infirmity." It is what Isaiah meant when he said:

"If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD'S holy day honourable, and if you honour it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, then you will find your joy in the LORD,"




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