Monday, December 17, 2012

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath - 31 Days with Jesus - Day 23

Biblical scholar Hal Ronning, walking ahead of us in Jerusalem


I was born in the first half of the last century. In 1949. Some things were very different then. Like the Sabbath laws.

Growing up in Rockford, Illinois in the 1950s, no one shopped on Sundays. Restaurants and grocery stores were closed. Gas stations took Sundays off. Every restaurant was "Chick Fil 'A." Only a little over 50 years ago, that was our way of "remembering the Sabbath to keep it holy."

Sabbath. Shabbat! (Hebrew) Which means: Cease! Remember the Sabbath Day by setting it apart. (Exodus 20:8) In your weekly planner set aside one day a week especially dedicated to God. Which meant, for observant Christians and Jews, do no work on this day. Which raises the question: How does one define 'work'?

Linda and I were in Jerusalem on a Sabbath Day. It was here that I learned something about the meaning of work. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, on the 25th floor. What a view of the city we had! There were six elevators in the hotel. On that day I rode one, non-stop, to the first floor, got some food, and then boarded a different elevator to ascend. A hasidic Jewish man got on this elevator with me. It stopped on floor one, but no one was there to get on. The door closed. Up we went, only to stop on floor two. Again, no one got on. I peeked outside the elevator to see if someone had pushed the button. No one was there. This elevator stopped on every floor. The Jewish man got off on floor 22. I had three more stops on my way to the 25th floor. I had boarded a special "Sabbath elevator." The reason it stopped on every floor was because pushing an elevator button was seen as "work," and Jews are to do no work on the Sabbath. Think of this as you read the following.

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man's eyes was a Sabbath.
- John 9:13-14

Uh-oh. You don’t make mud on the Sabbath, because that’s doing work. This irritates the religious leadersHow does the man feel about the fact that he can now see? Answer: very, very good.

Welcome to what scholars call the "Sabbath Controversies." Jesus was controversial.
15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. "He put mud on my eyes," the man replied, "and I washed, and now I see."
- John 9:15
The former blind man has to tell the story a second time, this time speaking to a new audience and adding the dramatic note that it was the Sabbath. The crowd had wanted to know how the healing had happened out of understandable curiosity.
The Pharisees now ask the same question but with different intent, for they want to determine whether any Sabbath laws have been broken. The man recounts his healing with great brevity (v. 15).
Many scholars see in this brevity an exasperation with having to retell his story, but this is only the first time he has told it to these people. Perhaps he senses their displeasure and sticks to the bare facts, as peasants have a tendency to do when interrogated by the junta--not an inappropriate image for this story, as we will see. (Note: I'm here quoting from some commentary on John, which I remember not. I doubt that Jesus minds.)

16 Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath."
      But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided.

- John 9:16

Jesus is seen as a "sinner," He's off the mark. Why? Because he works on the Sabbath. The Pharisees only show interest in the Sabbath violation. This is wild… because A BLIND BEGGAR JUST GOT HEALED!!!! This is an example of how rules and structures – while they can be good and even necessary – lock people out of what God may be doing.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him.
- John 9:16

The controversy gets white-hot in Mark 2, when Jesus makes a shocking self-referential claim. We read:

23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

New Testament scholar Michael Wilkins writes that we have here, coming from Jesus, "a remarkable clarification of his identity and authority." (Wilkins, The NIV Application Commentary: Matthew, 441) 

Jesus is Lord of all.

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath.