“What is the Sabbath Day for?”
I want to start with something funny. A Jewish scholar (Rabbi), a Christian minister, and an Islam minister (Mullah) are talking about miracles and their experiences with them. The Christian minister starts: “I was in the middle of a field, and suddenly, there was a storm. The sky started pounding, and I was really afraid that a lightning bolt would hit me, but then I remembered that I must put my faith in God. I prayed to God, and there was rain around me in a flash, but above my head was a clear sky.” The Islam minister continues: “I was in the desert, and my car died, I had no idea how to get back to town, but I remembered that God provides, and I prayed to God. There was scorching heat all around me in a flash, but there was cool air above my head.” The Jewish scholar thinks for a bit and says: “Guys, I have you all beat. On the Sabbath, I went through town, and in front of a hotel, I saw a dropped purse full of money. I wanted to pick it up, but then I remembered that it was the Sabbath and I would break the rest, so I prayed to God, and then I saw it: there was Sabbath all around me, but over my head, it was Tuesday.”
I want to talk about “What is the Sabbath Day for?” I wonder what kind of ideas come to your mind when you think about the “Sabbath.” We may find God’s Sabbath day in Genesis 2:2; after God created all things for six days, God rested from all his work on the seventh day. We also find it in the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). We simply think of Sabbath as the “day off.” Basically, the Sabbath means we shall have at least one day off a week. It is God’s commandment and we should keep it. However, we may not think of the significant meaning of the Sabbath other than “day off.” I wonder how you keep your Sabbath.
The church I attended first had very strict rules for Sabbath days. Here is an example: The church members must keep the Sabbath day. All businesses, stores, and shops should be closed on the Sabbath Day, and they might post a sign on their doors, “We are closed on the Lord’s Day.” If people saw the sign, people knew they were Christians. Most Korean Christians call Sunday “The Lord’s Day.” They call it the Lord’s Day because it is the day Jesus resurrected, the first day after the Sabbath. Therefore, the Jewish faith keeps Sabbath Day on Saturday-from Friday evening to Saturday afternoon. But, Christians keep Sabbath Day on Sunday because it is the day the Lord resurrected. What a wonderful idea!
Back to my story, I have served Sunday school at that church. I often got in trouble keeping the rule of the Sabbath. Sometimes I had to run to the store to buy Sunday school supplies on that day even though I had prepared all I needed, but there was something I missed. If I ran to a store to buy something on that day, the Lord’s Day, guess where I had to go. Right, I had to go to stores belonging to non-Christians because Christians closed their stores on the Sabbath. I felt sorry for Christians who closed their stores. In addition, the pastor of the church told me, “Don’t go against the rule of the Lord’s Day. You should keep the Sabbath day.” So, later on, I tried to prepare for Sunday school and the supplies needed well in advance, so nothing was missed. Above all, we couldn’t hang out with friends and eat at a restaurant with family members on Sundays. Imagine we worked or went to school for five or six days and had only time to be together with friends or family on Sunday. I understood we should worship God on the Lord’s Day. Why couldn’t we celebrate a family event after attending Sunday service? Shall we not go out for supper with family or friends? I wondered what we should keep the Sabbath day for. With this question, let’s see today’s scripture to get wisdom from Jesus’ teachings.
In today’s scripture, while Jesus taught in a synagogue (Jewish Temple) on the Sabbath, he saw a crippled woman who had a bent back for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight at all. Can you imagine her terrible pain? I know about back pain. As I shared my story, I have experienced a broken spin for three years. To be bent over like that means you have lots of pain in your back. Even though Jesus was teaching the Word of God, he must have felt compassion and mercy for her. Jesus stopped teaching as soon as he saw her. He called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When Jesus laid his hands on her, she immediately stood up straight and began praising God. What an amazing moment! They should altogether praise God.
But the Leader of the synagogue was upset with Jesus and said to the congregation, “there are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” The Leader was upset with Jesus because he cured her on Sabbath Day, but he told that to the congregation not to Jesus directly. The Leader, perhaps, intended to announce to the whole congregation that Jesus went against the Law of God therefore judged him before the congregation. Jesus answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on Sabbath Day?” They had a can-do list and cannot–do list on Sabbath. The can-do list had that they could give water to their animals because they thought their animals were valuable and they felt mercy for them. The cannot-do list has that they couldn’t cook or work. Instead, they asked their servants to work. They have missed what the Sabbath is for. The Sabbath day is based on God’s love and mercy toward us.
God’s Law is based on God’s love toward the people, especially for the powerless, the least, the last, and the sick. If we see the rule of keeping the Sabbath in detail, we may find God’s love and mercy on the powerless. Exodus 20:9-10 says, “On it (the Sabbath), you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” Because they had servants, they didn’t work. Mostly their servants worked hard or they used their animals to work. Therefore, it focuses on “nor manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates.” However, their can-do list and can’t-do list were distinguished depending on what was valuable to them. According to their judgment, their animals were more valuable than the sick and the powerless in society. They could give water to thirsty animals, but they cannot cure the sick on the Sabbath day.
We shouldn’t forget that the purpose of Jesus coming to the world was to complete the Law of God with love. The Law without love may be violent to the powerless. The scripture Jesus read first at a synagogue was that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus wanted to bring the good news to the poor, the powerless, and the sick to release them from their suffering. The Sabbath day’s purpose is to celebrate God’s creation, worship God, release us from hard work and stress, and refreshing our mind, soul and body for another new day. Let us keep the Sabbath day holy to take care of yourselves in God-honoring the other’s Sabbath. Let’s do what God loves on Sabbath Day. Thanks be to God. Amen!