Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath


One Sabbath when He went to dine at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees, they were watching him carefully.  And behold, there was a man before Him who had dropsy.  And Jesus responded to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, "is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?"  But they remained silent.  Then He took him and healed him and released him.  and he said to them, "Which of you having a son or an ox that has fallen into a well on a Sabbath day, will not immediately pull him out?"  And they could not reply to these things.  Luke 14:1-6

THE four gospels were carefully crafted by the evangelists.  They were written first to catechize their original hearers, secondly to teach the faith of Jesus to the end of the age, so whenever St. Luke refers to our Lord's table fellowship, as he does in today's gospel lesson, and as he does so often, it is with this end in mind:  that we, who are  forever catechumens, should learn something about this table that the Lord prepares for our rest in the presence of our fierce enemies, in the plain view of sin, death and the devil.

We should notice here that Jesus is willing to eat with sinners.  The pharisees and teachers of the Law, though outwardly righteous people, inwardly they were dead.  Outwardly they were healthy, but inwardly they suffered from dropsy of the soul.  Dropsy is a debilitating condition caused by heart or kidney failure.  People suffering from it retain fluid in the lungs or abdomen so that breathing and exertion of any kind become difficult to impossible.  Left untreated dropsy spells a long, slow, agonizing death.  The fluid that filled these men was pride and self-righteousness.  Thus the Lord's saying: whoever exalts himself will be humbled, a warning that applies as much to us as it did to them.

Because of their pride they greatly misunderstood the Sabbath in the same way that Protestants misunderstand baptism.  They suppose that baptism is something a person does to show his love for God rather than the thing that God does to show His love for us; to claim sinners as His own and to exalt us for time and eternity.  In the same way the lawyers and pharisees thought that the Sabbath was a day to perform for God, to make Him happy and to obtain His blessed applause in the form of a storied life.  They did not comprehend that the Lord established the Sabbath for the benefit of man and not man for the Sabbath.  So even as strict Jews do today, they painstakingly followed the rules in the hope of obtaining God's favor; something gained for something given.

However things don't work that way with heaven.  You can't do business with God, so Jesus regularly broke the Sabbath rules so as to restore its original intent, a day for God to bless His people.  He healed the sick man on the Sabbath and St. Luke records the three actions our Lord did that day:  He took him, healed him, and released him.

We should note the double meaning of the verbs St. Luke uses to relay this account to us.  It says He "took" the  man and made him well.  In the same way, at another table in the near future, Jesus would "take" bread, and in a miracle that defies human wisdom, that baffles Protestant faith, He gave it to His disciples with these words: take eat this is my body, given for you for the remission of sins.

Next St. Luke says that he "healed" the man.  We don't know how many other sick people our Lord made well during His earthly ministry (and still does as often as we pray) but every healing that our Lord performed should point us to, and make us long for, the healing of the soul that we obtain at the Lord's table on the Lord's Day.

We should remember once again today that Christians do not celebrate the Sabbath, the 7th day any longer, but the 8th Day, which in divine reckoning is actually the first day of the new creation; a day that looks back to the Lord's resurrection, yes, but even more so one that looks forward to His glorious return when we will obtain the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting that comes from the forgiveness of our sins.

We must say the same of the holy bread we here eat and the holy wine we here drink that they the glorified flesh and blood of our resurrected, ascended, reigning and returning Lord Jesus Christ, may His name be blessed forever!

Next St. Luke notes that the Lord "released" him.  The same can be said of us as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup.  We are released!  We are set free, liberated from the sins that weigh us down, sear our consciousness, stifle our prayers, rob us of joy, bathe us in guilt and disrupt our relationships with one another.  The Lord's Supper that we receive on the Lord's Day releases us from all of these and from the eternal death and damnation that sin brings to all who will not humble themselves before God:  all who will not confess their sins and believe the absolution.

In the face of all that our Lord did, St. Luke reports that the pharisees and teachers of the Law were silent!  They had not a word to say.  How could they?  They had no faith, but we do, so we have much to say.  We shout out our praise to God Who is good and Whose mercy endures forever.  We bless the Lord in the Nunc Dimittis, employing the words of Simeon when with his own eyes he beheld the mystery of the ages, now in flesh appearing, to bring joy to the world.  We leave this place with the Lord's benediction singing in our ears, "strengthened in faith towards Thee and in fervent love for one another."  May our faith and love never end, may our song continue into eternity.  Amen.

Rev. Dean Kavouras

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