Keep it holy

Reflection for Tuesday, August 20: “Keep it Holy” (Reflection on Proper 16, Luke 13: 10-17)

In this week’s gospel, once again the love of Christ runs smack into an impromptu ambush. Jesus is roundly condemned by a Pharisee for curing a woman on the Sabbath. But he doesn’t back down an inch. He stands his ground and argues that love always trumps legal nitpicking. The confrontation is all too familiar. Sometimes the issue has been verbal fencing over the finer points of theology. At other times it has been condemnation of Christ for reaching out to gentiles and sinners. This time the attack goes right to the heart of the new covenant.

What is more important: unconditional love of God and neighbor or total conformity to an elaborate canon of rituals, rules and regulations? God’s commandment given to Moses stated plainly: Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8) The rest of the text goes on to state that God knows that we must toil for our livelihood, but he expects one day to be devoted exclusively 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 zone-out and ignore the call of either God or neighbor.

To the 21st Century Christian, this concept of love over legalism seems obvious. To the 1st Century Hebrew, it was groundbreaking; shocking to some; sacrilegious to many more. The incident and the scriptural account of it reveal the core of the new covenant. God is not served by unthinking adherence to chapter and verse. God is served by love, because God is love. Christ’s message to us in this gospel is that our response to all things must be love. Jesus showed loving compassion for the suffering woman, knowing he would be criticized for violating the Pharisee’s literal interpretation of Sabbath rest. But that was his point. When tradition and love collide, choose love every time. Jesus always did and we should, too.

But there is one obvious difference. On the Sabbath Jesus could work miracles right on the spot. His love was demonstrated on a divine scale. We don’t have that power. But we do have the grace to 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. We have the grace to bond with Jesus in Communion and to openly share his love with family and friends.

While the Sabbath is set aside for God, it remains in the context of all the other days. We give the Sabbath day to God and he gives us the grace to take us through the week and all the weeks to come. Forgiven, nourished, strengthened and energized in the love of God and neighbor, we keep the Sabbath holy… rejoicing in the Lord… knowing that when we rest, we will rest in him.

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