This Week's Focus -  "Keep it Holy"  
     Click Link for Luke 13: 10-17



Dear Friends,

In this week’s gospel, Jesus runs smack into an ambush… but not an unexpected one. When he is attacked for curing a woman on the Sabbath, Jesus makes it a teachable moment. In the face of fierce criticism, he doesn’t give an inch… but stands his ground and argues that love always trumps legalism.

It’s a familiar confrontation. Sometimes the Pharisees are trying to trip Jesus on fine points of law. Other times they’re outraged about his reaching out to sinners or gentiles. This time the attack goes right to the heart of the New Covenant.

The question is: What is more important… witnessing God’s unconditional love… or total conformity to an elaborate canon of rules and rituals? While the question is aired in this ancient context, it’s one that confronts us today… both as individual Christians and as a Church.

God’s commandment plainly states: Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy.  The rest of the text goes on to say that God knows that we must toil for our livelihood, but he expects one day to be devoted to him. The word Sabbath literally means “to rest.” But resting is not the purpose of the day. God’s overriding intention is to keep the day holy, not to keep it inactive. The commandment to “rest” is a call to deliberately interrupt our weekly work schedule, to take one day and give it to God. It is not a license to ignore a neighbor in need.

To most 21st Century Christians, the concept of love over legalism seems obvious. But to most 1st Century Hebrews, it was shocking… even sacrilegious. Jesus uses this gospel to dramatize a core concept of his New Covenant. God is not served by mechanical adherence to chapter and verse. God is served by love, because God is love.

Jesus showed loving compassion for the suffering woman… clearly knowing he would be criticized for violating the Pharisees’ literal interpretation of rest. But that was his point. When tradition and love collide, choose love every time. Jesus always did and he’s telling us to do the same.

But there is one obvious difference. On the Sabbath Jesus could work miracles on the spot. His love was demonstrated on a divine scale. We don’t have that power. But we do have the grace… and the charge… to love both God and neighbor, simultaneously. On the Sabbath we come together as the Body of Christ, to refresh our souls, to acknowledge our dependence on God, to ask his forgiveness and to give him thanks. Jesus is telling us that God is not served if… literally or figuratively… we step over a neighbor in need to get to the church door. We serve God by serving neighbor… by actively sharing his love with family, friends and strangers… everyday, including Sundays.

This gospel clearly illustrates the divergent dynamics of the New and the Old Covenants. The commandments, the rituals, the observances that governed every aspect of Jewish life were clearly created to transform primitive nomads into God’s Chosen People, to bond an embattled tribe together and prevent their assimilation by the nations that surrounded them.

But that job is done…. and Jesus is here to change the game… to open it up to all God’s children… to give us new priorities and a sharper, unobstructed view of the Father’s will. Jesus is the Word made flesh… and that Word supersedes all others. While Jesus honors sacred tradition, he is not distracted by its more esoteric aspects. He shows us that law exists not for itself, but to guide us, to direct us to God’s will. Life is not a ritual dance where we are judged by how many style points we accumulate. We live for a purpose and that purpose is loving God and neighbor.    

And that is how we see the Sabbath, the way that Jesus sees it… a day God set apart from the others… to worship him, to thank him, to ask his forgiveness and to seek his will... a day to come together to share his love and be loved. We give the Sabbath to God and he gives us the grace to take us through the week and all the weeks to come. Forgiven, nourished, energized in the love of God and neighbor, we keep the Sabbath holy… rejoicing in the Lord… knowing that when we do rest, we rest in him.

God love you!

A Reflection for The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2016

©The Reverend David F. Sellery
St. John’s Church, Salisbury, Connecticut

Copyright © 2016 David Sellery, All rights reserved.

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