Pushing a button

Homily 288 – 25th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 26, 2017

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

The Jewish law commanded that no work be done on the Sabbath day. This was not a minor point, but one of the 10 commandments. And it was very specific. No work was to be done.

The discussions about the Law were quite extensive, and went on for centuries.

The primary focus of the discussions was trying to answer the questions about what was work.

Was it exertion of any type? Preparation of anything?

Generations argued about what the Law considered to be work. And still today, in some Jewish communities, primarily Hassidic Jewish communities, we find that life has revolved around this law.

Nothing must be done on the Sabbath. One may walk a short distance – typically, the distance to the Synagogue – but no more. Thus, the Gospels speak of a “Sabbath’s journey” or a “Sabbath day’s journey.”

In our day, the Law has been interpreted that you may not push a button or engage a switch. This leads to some very unique situations.

Jews who are observant cannot push an elevator button. This creates hardship for the Jews living in high rise buildings in New York or San Francisco. So elevators are designed to stop on every floor during the Sabbath.

In observant Jewish homes, the refrigerator light is turned off, so that opening the door will not result in “work” being done.

Even accidental work was prohibited. You can program things to come on or turn off, but bumping into a switch and turning it on or off would be a violation of the law.

You could eat on the Sabbath, but not prepare food – as that would be work. So when the disciples were hungry, and went into a field and rubbed the heads of grain in their hands to eat the seeds within, that was not allowed.

It seems rather strange to us. And yet, such was the respect shown to God by obedience, and such was the seriousness that the Law was given.

So, when Jesus healed on the Sabbath, in the opinion of the leaders and lawyers of the day, that was “work.” When Jesus spit on the ground and made mud to anoint the eyes of the blind, that was “work.”

Seems pretty straightforward.

So, when this woman was healed, it was “work” – and done in the synagogue, to increase the outrage.

Jesus offered a different idea, though, about what “work” was. He put the healing in a different context.

To do good – to show mercy – may have required effort, but it was assuredly allowed on the Sabbath. In fact, on every day of the week.

Saint Cyril of Alexandria in his homilies on Luke speaks of this event from a completely different perspective, similar to the perspective of our Lord.

He says that in fact, the woman being bound by Satan in an infirmity was working constantly, struggling against the restraints of the evil one.

Jesus, in the thoughts of Saint Cyril, was simply permitting the woman to rest on the Sabbath, as she was commanded to do.

Forbidding the healing, as the ruler of the synagogue did, was in fact a breach of the Law itself, to Saint Cyril.

Because the Sabbath isn’t about work at all. It is about rest.

It is about taking time and making the effort to be the contemplative person we are created to be.

It is about prayer. It is awareness of God’s presence.

During this season of overconsumption and overspending and general excess in everything, a little rest is not just a good thing – it is a necessary thing.

Like the woman, we are bent over with our desires, our wants. Our activities. Our diversions.

And we struggle – not finding rest. Not finding it anywhere. We are bound, and struggle continuously.

We cannot overcome the evil one in our own strength. It is not possible for us to do that. But Jesus can do it for us.

It is a paradox that to be set free we have to first stop struggling. Not that we submit – never submit! – but that we rest in Jesus, who will set us free.

Or rather, already has set us free. We are no longer bound. But we stay bent and burdened. Partially, by choice. More likely, by habit.

We are free. We are loosed. We can find peace and rest, because we like the woman are now freed from this bondage.

The remainder of our lives is about unlearning the habits. Knowing that any burden we bear is of our own choosing, our own habit.

Unlearning bondage – and learning freedom.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.