Jesus’ miracle is a visible story about how the Sabbath can bring us freedom, provide relief, and fill us with gratefulness. 

Introduction

Click here to read the passage.

A major point of discussion for hundreds and hundreds of years with some religious sects is what does faithful observance of the Sabbath mean? Some take a more lenient view and others take a more restrictive view. The administrator in our passage, it is worth noting, does not have the most restrictive view. That prize goes to another sect located in the ancient place of Qumran.

The people of Qumran said that if an animal fell into a pit or ravine on the Sabbath you had to wait until the Sabbath was over. Otherwise, you would violate the Sabbath. They also held that if a person fell into a pit on the Sabbath you COULD help them but you couldn’t use any equipment. (Citation here).

We quickly assess the situation and conclude that the healing of the woman was right and good, that the leader of the synagogue is being too rigid, and that we need to be lax about Sabbath-taking. 

However, we easily err in the opposite direction and can believe that there is nothing worthwhile about the sabbath, about setting aside one day out of seven for rest and worship. 

If we are not careful, we miss what God can do in us and for us during the Sabbath. The Sabbath was given to unbind us, to bring us freedom and relief, so that like the woman we would respond to God with praise and thanks.

A Simple Definition of the Sabbath

Holly Hough in the Office of Clinical Research at Duke Divinity defined it thusly: “The Sabbath is a day set aside for rest and spiritual rejuvenation.” (Citation here)

Doesn’t that sound great? One day out of seven to rest and to pursue life inside ourselves instead of producing. 

Yet the truth emerges, though we would like a day like that, we are often hesitant or lax to pursue a consistent sabbath. Though the Sabbath was given as a gift, it can feel like a burden.

The issue is not just you. It’s everyone. From those early in their careers who are trying to show themselves ready and skilled for promotion to retirees who volunteer and tell me, “There’s just always something to do,” everyone can be too busy and become lax in keeping a consistent sabbath.

Ours is a capitalistic society that holds work (and even overwork) as a strong virtue. We just do not see regular adequate rest and spiritual fulfillment as all that important. This is the culture, the water in which we swim. Often, we feel guilt for resting or even taking our vacation days! Just because we retire doesn’t mean that these deeply ingrained ideas and feelings go away. 

Technological advances entrap us as well. With the advent of more work-from-home jobs and the ubiquity of social media and the internet, we are often chained to our computers, laptops, smartphones, or tablets. One more click, one more scroll, and one more work email before I go to bed. 

The issue is not just in American culture. Deep issues reside in any person and any culture that holds to a work-at-all-costs philosophy. We suffer when we do not rest adequately. We suffer when we live as if we are not spiritual beings who need our souls to be nurtured. In 2017, a 31-year-old journalist in Japan named Miwa Sodo died. It was later revealed that Miwa’s death was caused by working 159 hours a month of overtime. In that situation, the news organization was a pharaoh and victimized Miwa. That organization was itself enslaved to the 24/7 news cycle and the profit margin. Miwa was enslaved and a victim. (Citation here)

We need the Sabbath. We need rest. We need to get off the treadmill of activity. We not only need rest, but we need to feed our souls! By resting our bodies and our minds and feeding our souls, we see a more sane and sensitive way to live. We need to be unbound and freed.

Lifting Benefits

Jesus states that the Sabbath is for us. It is not another day of production, but a day of reflection, enjoyment, and worship. Sabbath can be called “virtuous rest,” which is not just taking a day off, but it is a day when you give attention to living that day in a way that orients your heart and mind towards God.

Religious involvement is associated with better mental health. If you are involved in a religious community you are more likely to experience greater life satisfaction, decreases anxiety, and fewer symptoms of depression. (Citation here)

We simply need a day to relax, to achieve space between our person and our production, and to orient ourselves to the eternal instead of the next to-do.

Just as the woman was healed, and set straight, so also the gift of the Sabbath and the rest and perspective that comes with it can set us aright. God’s intention is to heal and to help us.

There is growing research available on the benefits of the Sabb1ath.

The Intent of the Sabbath

The Sabbath is not a religious burden but a divine gift.

We read about the Sabbath gift in the book of Exodus. God delivered the people from the land of Egypt, from the land of abusive overwork. We read that Pharaoh (a burgeoning capitalist?) saw the Israelites as literal human resources to be used up, discarded, and replaced. Work, work, work. No rest. On the backs of the poor and on minorities so many “great” civilizations are built. Seven days a week with no time to rest, play, or worship.

Alarm bells should be sounding inside of us if we become habitually too busy or too consumed with other things that we don’t have time to worship publicly with our neighbors, family, and friends. Please notice I said the phrase “habitually too busy.” Pharaoh would not let the people go worship and cease work because he knew if they did so they would find freedom.

For over 400 years the Israelites were taught that their worth was in what their hands could produce, so how will God correct that thought? God gave them the 10 Commandments and in that list was, “You will rest one day out of seven and it will be special (hallowed) for you.” 

The Sabbath is not just for us! Your animals will rest. Your employees will rest. The earth shall rest. The Sabbath is a radical call to individual, communal, and ecological rest and justice. This is a healing word for our time.

We should be so grateful that when people had no time for rest, fun, family, or faith and when creation had not time to recuperate, it was a great concern for God.

What Our Sabbath Can Look Like

We learn by trying. We do not need to go the way of rigidness or the way of not caring. We can try and learn and see the benefits for ourselves. 

When we practice observing the Sabbath and guard ourselves against what takes our energy and attention on that day, we grow in what is best for us. We grow in our ability to say no and we grow in our ability to know when we are expecting too much of our finite selves.

Someone recently shared a quote with me that said, “People overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a month.” We can try and trust and learn.

Christ is Our Sabbath

The New Testament Book, Hebrews, Chapter 4 describes Christ as our Sabbath rest. We do not have to relate to God as if our worth and our belonging are dependent upon our production of good deeds. Instead, our relationship with God is grounded in the graciousness of God who loves us and cares for us. 

If Christ is our rest then we are free from slavishly thinking our identity is in what we do. We are unbound from having to prove our worth. Instead, God is there with us in our work and our resting, lifting our spirits by the mercies and graces of Christ, and giving us the Spirit-filled wisdom to try, to learn, and to discern the better way.

  1. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30972608/
    Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity by Saundra Dalton-Smith
    Rest Is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey
    I found Richard Foster’s book The Freedom of Simplicity helpful in tackling the all around issue of prioritizing the many issues that contiribute to busyness and overcrowding of life
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