Sunday, March 08, 2015

The True Sabbath

After a while, they took no further notice of him. Occasionally someone  who had  extra good fortune would give him something for charity’s sake, since everyone knew it was right to be generous to the poor, and a man with only one right hand couldn’t work very well, but, mostly, they took no notice of him. The poor were everywhere, after all, and had obviously done something wrong for God to punish them with extreme poverty and the loss of the ability to work. So, if they thought of him at all, it was most likely to speculate on what he (or perhaps his parents) might have done.

But, in spite of everything, in spite of the useless, withered hand which flopped so annoyingly at the end of his right arm, he hadn’t given up on God. He had lost everything else: his job, his livelihood, his position in society, and most of his friends. The parents of the girl he had planned to marry had broken it off, there was no way they were going to give their daughter to a man who couldn’t provide for her. Some of his friends had vanished quickly, they wanted nothing to do with a man whose bad luck might be contagious; and some drifted away over time, because they had nothing in common with him anymore, with no money and no work he wasn’t one of them.

But God was different. God made promises, and kept them. God sent his sun to shine on them, and his rain to fall on them, and God had restored them to the Promised Land. So, Sabbath, by Sabbath, the man with the withered hand would make his way to the synagogue, and pray for his hand to be restored and his time of suffering to be over.

And then, one Sabbath, when the tides of his hope were running low, and habit rather than faith had brought him along, the itinerant preacher called Jesus was there. For a moment a crazy hope rose in his throat. This Jesus was reputed to be a healer, maybe, just maybe, he would choose to heal this useless hand? But no, it was the Sabbath! The Pharisees would never allow such a thing, and surely this man, being so holy, would never dream of breaking the Sabbath?

Imagine his dismay when one of the Pharisees stopped and pointed at him, demanding “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”

 He wanted to shrink out of sight, but Jesus’ reply caught his attention. “If your sheep fell into a pit on the Sabbath, wouldn’t you pull it out again? And isn’t a man worth more than a sheep? So it must be lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

He had never thought of it that way before. It seemed to make sense. But before he had time to ponder the implications, there was Jesus asking him to stretch out his hand. It didn’t make sense, but there was a deep kindness there and he wanted to respond to it. And when he did, he found that his hand was restored!

It was only later, in the peace of his own home, picking things up, touching them for the sheer pleasure of it, that he remembered the words of the prophet Isaiah, “Is this not the fast I have chosen? To loose the chains of injustice...” Perhaps, contrary to what the Pharisees taught, God cared more about justice, kindness and generosity than he did about empty rituals?

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