For eighteen years, the woman with a bent back could not straighten herself up no matter what. It was not because of her age or even due to nature that her back was crooked. Since the way it is put, that she was “possessed by a spirit of infirmity” (Lk 13:11). Her back was most likely twisted to an abnormal degree. She must have had difficulties in her daily activities of life. Since her back was severely crooked, just facing forward or looking upwards, was most difficult. Also, this woman living with such disfigurement would have felt the shame of being viewed by the townspeople as possessed by an evil spirit. Her situation went on for eighteen long years. It was not short at all.
But then, she met Jesus. The Lord called her to Himself and said, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity” (Lk 13:12), in other words, ‘Woman, your sickness is healed’. And after He said these words ‘He placed His hands on her’ (Lk 13:13), at which point immediately her back was made straight, and so she glorified God (Lk13:13). This is a story about a person who had suffered for a long time and who was healed and set free by Jesus.
Yet, were it just a story that she was healed by Jesus, then it would be sufficient to end with verse thirteen. But this narrative does not end there. In verse fourteen the scripture speaks as follows: “But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day’” (Lk 13:14).
We see from how this story is initially set forth that the main point of the narrative is placed on the exchanges between the synagogue leader and Jesus. The narrative begins by saying that Jesus, “was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath” (Lk 13:10). Hence this passage is not merely a story about Jesus having performed a healing, but that Jesus had healed someone on the Sabbath and that a synagogue leader was enraged over it.
In light of the Mosaic Law, there was some justification to the synagogue leader’s being angry because there was something stipulated in the Decalogue regarding Sabbaths. The following words are written in the scriptures: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates. …” (Exodus 20:8-11). This is the law for the Sabbath.
Therefore, when the synagogue leader said: ‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day’. He was saying, ‘We must not work on the seventh day’, which for Jews begins on Friday evening and ends on Saturday evening. God’s intent for giving the Sabbath to Israel was not that they would remember the gift of creation only, but that they would remember their Egyptian slavery and the Lord’s deliverance. A person breaking the Sabbath law was to be put to death (Exodus 31:15; Numbers 15:32–35).
For the Jews, it was generally held that even putting out a fire counted as “work”. In addition, even medical treatment was under the category of “work”. Therefore, since what Jesus did was regarded as a medical treatment, it was considered as a violation of the Sabbath law. That’s why the synagogue leader was angry. But he was also angry at the person healed. He was concerned that the people would get influenced by this event and therefore spread this violation of the law. So, he admonished the crowd by saying, ‘Don’t seek medical treatment on the Sabbath. Get your healing on the day you’re supposed to work’ (Lk 13:14).
We must give some consideration to this by putting the Jewish leader in context. To begin with, the command to, ‘Do not work. Rest’, is truly a strange one. The Israelites were originally slaves in Egypt and because of that they had heard to death the command ‘Get to work. Get to work’. There definitely wasn’t anybody telling them, ‘You should rest. Take a break’. So why did God give them such a command to begin with? What was rest for?
In fact, there is more to the Sabbath stipulation in the Decalogue. After where it says, “… you shall do no work …” (Ex 20:10), it says the following: “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it” (Ex 20:11).
The part where God created the world in six days is the narrative of the creation of the universe, which is recorded in Genesis. In short, the part about the laws of the Sabbath places its foundation in the part where God created the world. God accomplished all of it in six days. The part about the seventh day is the next day. In short, God did it from A to Z. Therefore the Sabbath is the day we think about what God has done and continues to do.
We exist because we are granted life and enveloped by the works of God, the creator and the One who sustains the whole universe. Yet, we pretty much tend to forget that when we keep on the move and keep at work, our minds are always oriented on our activities and our work. And so we end up thinking simplistically, that we’re supporting ourselves and others merely by our own strength and talents. That’s why we must stop.
By ceasing our works/activities, by standing still and stopping, we rest and reflect/contemplate on life as well. Then what will become apparent to us is the reality that there is a power that is bigger than us, that it is God who is really at work for us in our lives for our benefit. Out of that contemplation will emerge our praise and thanksgiving unto God. Therefore, the Sabbath becomes the day of worship. Human beings were by nature supposed to live in that fashion. Thus, we could make the statement that the Sabbath was established in order for human beings to recover the original plan of humanity; that is, to be in a relationship with God (as inheritors of His Kingdom), and to participate in creating love with God (being creative, as co-creators and active participants).
Jesus showed what it really means when God “rests” and when God “works”, and this is wonderfully expressed by St.John Chrysostom who expresses the following; “If anyone says, “And how does the Father work, when He ceased on the seventh day from all His works?” let them learn the manner in which God works. He cares for and holds together all that has been made. Therefore when you behold the sun rising and the moon running in her path, the lakes, and fountains, and rivers and rain, the course of nature in the seeds and in our bodies…and all the things which make up the world, then learn the ceaseless working of the Father”.
On the seventh day God rested from creating new things, but He did not rest from caring about that which He had created. He does not abandon His creation, but holds it together. When Jesus healed the woman on the Sabbath, He merely displayed care for one of His creations – thus showing the true meaning of the Sabbath.
On such a Sabbath a woman was healed. The healed woman had probably given thanks to Jesus, but it is clear that she did not look at this as a mere medical treatment from Jesus. What did she first do with her body when her back became straight? She gave glory/praise to God. She saw the work of God in what had happened. She had seen the work of God which was filled with His compassion on her, and which restored her by His Grace.
Somebody may be thinking that, ‘Hey, if miracles like that happen, anybody would act like she did’. But, would they really? At least in this narrative it wasn’t like that. This synagogue leader had seen the body of a person with a bent back for eighteen years become straight before his eyes. He saw the miracle right there done on the spot. But he did not see the work of God in it; and therefore he did not rejoice at having seen the work of God. That’s how human beings can be. Even though they experience a miracle, the people who won’t see the work of God don’t see, and this may be due to their passionate attachment to the things of this world.
In this example, the Synagogue leader’s central focus was too much on the Mosaic Law. Hence, it became an obstruction to his vision of the maker of the Law, God Himself. Even our own lives are filled with miracles from God. But the people who won’t see don’t see. Nor do they consider how they themselves are granted life by God’s works; and this is because we need to purify our hearts from all passionate attachments to this world in order to cultivate and maintain a clear and uncontaminated focus on God, who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.
Why was the power of God’s presence invisible to the synagogue leader? Wasn’t it because he wasn’t resting? He kept on working. It looks like he was still on the clock. He was doing his duty prominently as the synagogue leader. He himself wasn’t even resting on the Sabbath. As a synagogue leader, he was serving with all his might so that the law might be kept, and that an orderly Jewish community might be maintained, as his responsibility was to keep order in the Jewish community. So, he would not allow this rule to be disrupted even in the slightest. Had he tolerated the medical treatment on the Sabbath, he thought it would extend to other areas and the rupture of the Jewish community would spread. So he promptly warned the crowd against this. The Synagogue leader said, “‘There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day” (Lk 13:14).
The ruler had been so immersed in the physical aspects of the Law that he had forgotten the underlying theology of it, that of God’s loving presence for all creation. The deflected objection of the synagogue ruler leads Jesus to a more direct charge of hypocrisy: the allowances made for the “loosing” of animals on the Sabbath to give them relief is a light thing, compared to the heavy matter of “loosing” a human person (and a ‘daughter of Abraham’) from the bondage of Satan (Lk 13:16). Indeed, faced with such a human need, it is necessary to heal on the Sabbath!
Therefore, what Jesus did, far from being a violation of the law, seemed to me to give rise to what was actually supposed to take place on the Sabbath. The Sabbath, as I said, was the day when everyone was rejoicing as they thought of the work that God does. But, if all I had in my head was my work, my duty, my responsibility, then the work God does would not be visible to me.
Indeed, it is more than a case of not being able to see God’s power at work. Unless the Synagogue leader took the time to stop and to rest, he would never get to see the people around him or his neighbours.
As I read to you earlier ago, the OT Scripture says in the laws on the Sabbath, “In it you shall do no work: [It is the same for] you, [your] sons, [your] daughters, [your] male and female slaves, [your] cattle, and the strangers staying within the gates of your town” (Ex 20:10). It is not just “you”. Not just one’s sons and daughters, but even the male and female slaves, and even the cattle came under it. It’s not an option to maybe rest the slaves. You must let the slaves rest.
In brief, the Sabbath is the day when we let others into our field of vision, become mindful of them, let others rest, and rejoice with them over the works of God. It is even the day when we become mindful of the cattle as well and give them rest. The strangers in the town have a harsh day to day life. When we don’t give them assistance, they won’t rest. Therefore, the Sabbath is also the day when we stop and put our thoughts on the various hard labours of the strangers (travellers) and let them rest, and rejoice with them over the works of God.
We cannot do this unless we rest and relax/trust in what God does. We cannot do this if we don’t think of God at work for our life, and give thanks for being sustained and granted life from A to Z by God’s gracious works. When we don’t stop and look at God’s works and feel at ease within, then we stop seeing our neighbours as well, since God created them for us to have a personal relationship with, as human beings created in His image.
Was the person with the bent back for eighteen years only in the synagogue on this day by chance? Probably not. Did the synagogue leader catch sight of her for the first time? Probably not. More than likely the people assembled there, and the synagogue leader, had certainly for a long time seen the suffering of this woman, her figure worshipping with such disfigurement, difficult for her to look in front of her, and still harder for her to look up to heaven.
But, what happened? When she was healed, what did the synagogue leader do? He became angry that Jesus healed a sick person on the Sabbath. He said, ‘Not on the Sabbath, get healed on another day. The Sabbath is the wrong day for that’. ‘You are never to get healing on the Sabbath, especially. Wait one day and you won’t be in violation of the law’. This may be correct in theory. But there is something we understand clearly from his words. It is that even though he, at the least, saw this person with a bent back, sick for so long, he had never felt, ‘What a poor soul! How hard it is for her! If she were only healed!’. Her crooked body had appeared to his eyes. But, he had not been able to see her in the true sense, as a human being created by God in His image. He could not see the person, a soul, his neighbour. He could not see the flesh and blood human being who had borne the suffering and pain upon her.
Therefore, even though she had been set free, was rejoicing, and had been praising God, it did not become joy for him. He could not rejoice with the one rejoicing. He did not rejoice with her in what God was doing in her life.
Upon reading this, I’ve got to wonder is there something I need to wake up about. Jesus said, “So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” (Lk 13:16). We can certainly argue that this woman was bound by Satan with a bent over body, and then she was healed and set free from that bondage. But, I think we need to think again about who was the one really ‘being bound by Satan’, and therefore who was the one who really needed to be healed. Isn’t it the hypocritical synagogue leader? Isn’t it the people who were in agreement with the synagogue leader? And isn’t it really our own selves, which is being projected by means of these figures, due to our lack or impotent faith in the power of God, revealed in Jesus Christ?
As a matter of fact, we can probably see that the healing and the liberation which happened to this woman point to what kind of healing and liberation is required by the whole world. The miraculous work of healing that Jesus performed was, on the one hand, a manifestation of God’s mercy, compassion and love, but on the other hand it was also a demonstration of His authority, for all to behold. It was a demonstration of the salvation that God is willing to give to this world through Jesus Christ, and it was a sign of the end times (the age to come) in eternity, pointing to God’s salvation.
Her former disfigurement is a symbol of the worldly person bound by Satan. She remained with a crooked back for a long time. Since her body was extremely crooked, her eyes were always facing the earth. It was only her ‘self’ that came into view first. It was hard to look at those in front of her or near her. Harder still it was to look up to heaven. She symbolises, before her healing, the fallen world which is bound by Satan, not glorifying God, and unable to rejoice with those of her neighbours over God’s works.
But, she was set free by Jesus, and her body became straightened. She praised God with her upright body and spirit. Thus, Jesus has come into this world in order to give healing and liberation to the sick in body (as represented by the woman with the infirmity) and the sick in soul (as represented by the ruler of the synagogue). In the gospel, the humans around Christ, are ‘us’, whether they are the one being healed or the ones crucifying Him, or arguing with Him; it is us. We are the ones who have received the special miracle of life and personal existence, but we are also the hypocrites who who do not acknowledge God’s works, God’s sacred action in every moment of our lives. This is what it means to live sacramentally/liturgically, to see God’s work on a daily basis, in every facet of our life. This is our spiritual task.
Jesus has already given healing and liberation to those who believe in His death and resurrection. They receive the life-giving Spirit through the hearing of faith and by enduring in this faith throughout their lives. For this reason St Paul gives a comparison of the Mosaic Law and the Promise, to the Galatians: “But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:23-26).
The Mosaic Law was given by God to educate Israel so that they would know what was wrong and what was right. They left Egypt undisciplined, untaught, rebellious slaves, prone to worshipping false gods, quarrelling, hating their neighbour. The Law was given to them to teach them the sinfulness of their sins (Rom 7:13), that they might hate their sins and seek after God and true righteousness. It had an educative function, not a life-giving one; it was to teach, not justify. It had a negative purpose – to deal with transgressions; not a positive purpose – to impart holiness. As such it had a subordinate position to faith and the Promise. God is faithful and true in everything that He says and does. So you can count on the promises of God in the Bible to be absolutely trustworthy.
For example, in the case of God dealing with Abraham, He worked directly with Abraham as the only one acting. It was a promise, a prophecy, not a legal contract. Unlike the Mosaic Law which required a mediator (the Law was given indirectly through angels, as the carriers of the Divine Presence, Ex 19:16), the Promise’s success was certain, for it depended only upon the faithfulness of God. As Scripture declares (Gal 3:8), we were all left under the power of sin. The Law could not give us life, or break sin’s grip. That was only to be fulfilled by Jesus Christ (the God-man, and only sinless One), giving the promise of His eternal life, to all who had faith.
Therefore, St Paul concludes that the Law is no longer the deciding factor in our lives, but rather faith in the revealed eternal God, to which it leads. God gave the Law to Israel as a preparation for the Gospel. It was never the final goal; Christ is. God never meant the Law to justify that is the function of faith. Now that faith in Christ (Who is the pinnacle and revelation of God’s promise) has come, the Law’s function has been fulfilled, since God has been revealed.
Hasn’t the work of God already begun among us who are here in this place? Aren’t we, in fact, lifting our faces here, rejoicing over the works of God together, and giving glory to God? What we are seeing and experiencing in our Orthodox Church may only be like a small mustard seed. But still, it surely has begun. It will turn into a great tree.
The Sabbath was given to Israel, not the church. The Sabbath is still Saturday, not Sunday, and has never been changed. But the Sabbath is part of the Old Testament Law, and Christians are free from the bondage of the Law (Galatians 4:1-26; Romans 6:14). Sabbath keeping is not required of the Christian—be it Saturday or Sunday. The first day of the week, Sunday, the Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:10) celebrates the New Creation in the eighth day, with Christ as our resurrected Head.
It was on the eighth day after His Birth that our Lord received the name Jesus, the Name declared by the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation. Jesus means in Hebrew: God saves. His Resurrection transformed the first day of the week (Sunday) into the eighth, the day of a new theandric creation, and the transfiguration of time. In Him, the Risen One, linear time has given way to the crossbeam of eternity, inaugurating the eschatological eternal present, the moment without end. This is God’s gift and promise to the faithful.
Hence, we are not obligated to follow the Mosaic Sabbath—resting, but are now free to follow in the spirit of the risen Christ—serving God’s love. We are to worship God every day, not just on Saturday or Sunday (Romans 14:5). For this reason, the Sabbath is an image of a future day of rest from evil deeds, not from good works. Jesus notes that if animals needing water were cared for on the Sabbath, certainly a woman of Israel could be delivered from Satan’s bondage on the Sabbath.
Christ has given His divine life to those who are created in His image, but the only response He received was hatred. Today, after two thousand years of Christianity, what do we see? The contemporary world is losing Christ, losing eternal life, more and more. The deep darkness of sinful passionate attachments, hatred, domination, wars of all kinds, are what make up our earthly existence. In this situation, Christ has given this commandment to those who decide to follow Him: ‘Love your enemies’. Why is the world afraid of such a God? Can one find a better principle than this: bless those who curse you, love your enemies? Christ makes it clear in this passage that He loves the hypocrites, but He hates their hypocrisy.
Throughout world history it has been common for powerful public figures to use their status to lecture the rest of us about how we should live. But it’s also no secret that the politicians, business leaders and entertainers who make up this elite group of decision and trend makers in our society, don’t practice what they preach. Each year is remembered for its scandal-ridden headlines, from admissions of extramarital affairs by elected leaders, movie-stars and athletes, to corporate executives preaching about free markets while taking bailout money, it may be reasonable to ask: why are powerful people hypocrites?
In a new Psychological Science paper, researchers from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University sought to determine whether power inspires hypocrisy, the tendency to hold high standards for others while performing morally suspect behaviours oneself. Predictably, the researchers found that power makes people stricter in moral judgment of others – while being less strict of their own behaviour.
Most people spend far too much time assessing the sins of other people. The fact that people are unable to live perfect lives is not really breaking news. Instead of measuring our lives by what hypocrites do, we need to model our lives after the only sinless One who set the perfect example, Jesus Christ.
Dear friends, let us stand with fear and with faith before the presence of God, since many of us fall in the same category of hypocrites.
Many problems arise within our families when we attempt to punish the person, rather than helping them through our good example, and resolving the issue with love, patience, and prayer.
Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you’ll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.
So, let us ask God to enlighten us and seek not to be like the hostile hypocritical ruler, because one does not believe who does not live according to their belief.