Simply Put... God Breaks the Rules (and That's OK)
Ask anyone who knows me best and they will tell you one of my finest qualities, that will one day be my downfall is my love of rules. While rules seem like a huge downer for many, rules, in my mind, set boundaries. Rules keep everyone on the same playing field. Rules create order in a world where it seems like we are one misstep away from the train coming completely off the tracks.
Rules provide, for better or worse, the minimum expectation for participation in a community. Living in Arlington County, the City of Falls Church, or wherever you pay your personal property taxes, you have agreed to adhere to the boundaries established by peers you selected to govern the community. If you choose to visit a neighboring jurisdiction you do so knowing that you will be held accountable for your actions based on the boundaries established within the area you are visiting. In many cases, this is no big deal. Speed limits are clearly posted and throughout the 50 United States and Canada you are required to stop for a school bus when children are boarding or departing the bus. These common expectations and boundaries ensure we all know not just what the boundaries are but also ensure that all people (in theory) have the same opportunities to be safe in the place they call home.
Rules ensure that everyone is treated fairly, and when the governing rules of a community do not ensure fairness the task of community leaders is to determine where the boundaries of the community need to be adjusted to ensure all people can equally thrive.
The Law of Moses, the Torah, was the guidepost for not only the religious life of Israel but also the social agenda of the community. The Law of Moses established the boundary. Festivals were celebrated in accordance with the prescriptions of the Law while the big 10, the 10 Commandments, served to order the religious and social life of the community.
I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
These Commandments from G-d, given to Moses to give to the people, established a baseline for the community and ensured all people knew what was expected of them. These were the rules that guided the community. These 10 Commandments, along with the Torah, guided the community’s shared life with one another.
It was Friday and like any good Jew in Israel, Jesus found himself in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus was in front of the congregation teaching when he noticed a woman who was crippled. She was doing what everyone else in the synagogue was doing, observing the Sabbath by worshiping G-d. This woman whom the Gospel writer tells us had been crippled for 18 years was just like everyone else in the synagogue - following the fourth commandment and keeping the day holy. If this story were taking place in 2019, the woman would have been sitting in her pew or chair, waiting for the service to start by carefully and meticulously reading the church bulletin, filling out her offering envelope, or grabbing a snack in the back of the worship space.
This woman had not come to the synagogue to be healed.
She knew it was the Sabbath, and to ask for healing on this day would have placed the leader of the synagogue in a tight spot because the boundaries of the community, as interpreted by the religious leaders of the day, stated that no work of any kind could be done.
No fires lit.
No fields fielded.
If she was to seeking healing she would need to come back another day but that is not why she was in the synagogue.
Jesus saw the woman, he knew his audience, Jesus knew exactly what he was about to do, and then he called upon the woman.
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
A modern interpretation of the text might read, “Hey lady, stand up straight. You are healed.”
Jesus did not give the woman a choice in the matter.
No, “Would you like to be healed?”
No, “I know it's the Sabbath, and this may irritate that guy standing right over there, but how about we take care of what ails you?”
He knew his audience.
He knew the leader of the synagogue was watching.
He knew the leader of the synagogue would be angry.
He certainly knew the 10 Commandments, which means he knew exactly what the fourth of those commandments stated:
“Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work.”
He knew all of this and still, Jesus called the woman, laid his hands on her, and healed her.
This woman had no faith in Jesus as the Son of G-d.
She had no expectations that when she walked in the synagogue on that particular Sabbath day that she would be healed.
She did not pray a certain prayer.
She did not ask G-d to enter into her life.
She did not seek to have a personal relationship with Jesus to be healed.
And still, Jesus acted with compassion and mercy on the one day of the week when he, according to the interpreters of the Law, was not supposed to.
The irony of the story, the shift we miss as we are distracted by the praise of the woman and the outrage of the synagogue leader is that the Commandment Jesus violated, was a commandment given by G-d.
Jesus was present when our Creator created and ordered the universe.
Jesus was present when our Creator formed humanity out of clay and breathed life into our lungs.
Jesus, being the divine Son of G-d, reigning on high, is not just the word of G-d revealed to creation, Jesus is the Word of G-d.
Jesus is Lord of the ordered universe.
Jesus is Lord of humanity.
Jesus is Lord of the Commandments given to Moses and Jesus is Lord of those Commandments as they were/are implemented in the creation he oversees.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest. I would imagine that as Jesus traveled throughout his ministry he and his disciples would stop and rest. Most likely, they did this on the Sabbath by refraining from working and by attending worship in the synagogue.
But as Lord of Creation, Jesus is the One who sets into order the Law we observe.
Jesus has the final say on exactly what work is and exactly what rest is.
Simply put… Jesus, G-d, breaks the rules (and that’s OK).
Through the healing of this woman on the Sabbath we are assured that things will be put right in the presence of Christ, regardless of how people like me interpret the Law. Regardless of what religious professional debate endlessly, regardless of what a finalized doctrinal statement says, Jesus, G-d, will have the final say over our application of His Word.
The indignation of the synagogue leader revealed that he found his justification by following the rules. There is nothing wrong with being a rule follower (this coming from a self-confessed chronic follower of rules). But in Jesus, G-d revealed that we do not have to seek out our justification through the rules. We do not have to seek our righteousness by doing the correct action on a particular day while on a different day not performing the action we had previously done.
We, all of us, find our justification, our “enoughness” in the eyes of G-d not through our own actions, and not in our own ability to not work on the Sabbath and keep it holy. We find our righteousness through the One who sees our need, calls us by name, and heals us when we do not except it, and others say it cannot be done.
Our reliance upon Christ allows us to rest and abide in G-d, on the Sabbath and every other day of the week.