The English word, Sabbath, comes from the Hebrew verb, shabbat, which means to rest from labor. The Hebrew root word, qadash, is part of the Hebrew shabbat. It means to set apart as holy. Most Christians have taken Sunday as the Sabbath because Jesus rose from the grave on the first day of the week. We have also decided to go with the cultural norm of treating, first, sunrise, then midnight as the beginning of the day instead of following the Jewish sunset to sunset.
But the question for today is, did Jesus keep Shabbat?
In today’s reading in Luke, we see Jesus healing a woman crippled for 18 years, in violation of the Shabbat Teachings. Only if a person’s life was in danger could the work of tending to the person be done on Shabbat. Clearly, this woman’s life was in no danger.
Jesus claimed in Matthew 5:17, Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. NIV
Despite this claim, Jesus heals many people on Shabbat. How do we reconcile this contradiction? In perhaps his most famous writing, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, It was the error of Israel to put the law in God’s place, to make the law their God and their God a law. The disciples were confronted with the opposite danger of denying the law its divinity altogether and divorcing God from his law. Both errors lead to the same result.
In Luke 6:5, Jesus said, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. NIV Matthew 12:8. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath. NIV Mark 2:28. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath. NIV This is an important claim by the Son of Man/Son of God. It is God who created the Sabbath as a part of the creation of the universe. God is and always has been the Lord of Shabbat. As a part of God, Jesus shares in that ownership.
That is fine, but how does it allow Jesus to disobey the Shabbat rules? No work means no work.
That is exactly where the Jews, and Pharisees in particular, tripped up. Their understanding of the hundreds of legal Teachings of the OT was all or none.
Jesus knew the Law—Teachings—in a way that sinful humans did not know. He understood that it was more holy to heal a woman on Shabbat than to ignore her so he could rest from work. Besides, healing someone was not work for Jesus; it was pure joy.
Isaiah 58:6-10. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. NIV
For God, Love always comes first. If people are in need, we should help, even if it is Shabbat. The final Word of God in the Isaiah reading tells us a bit more about sharing and caring on God’s Holy Day.
“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 honorable,
and if you honor 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,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Be righteous and do good.