Homily 383 – 23rd after Pentecost
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
November 24, 2019
Epistle: (215) Galatians 6:11-18
Gospel: (66) Luke 12:16-21
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God.
We hear of the woman healed from her infirmity, who could not straighten up, and in our day perhaps we don’t understand the objection from the leaders of the synagogue about that healing.
Those leaders were just trying to do what they saw as obedience to God. The Law given to Moses, the 10 Commandments, dictated that no work was to be done on the Sabbath.
I’ve probably mentioned before that the elements of Jewish law developed around the 10 Commandments to make sure that not only were the Commandments not transgressed, they weren’t even approached.
The teachers and scribes and rabbis of the Jewish people were protecting the people, and themselves, from transgressing the law. That’s a good thing!
Or is it?
That fence around the Law is what Jesus struck down. The fence was man-made. It was believed to be God-inspired, for sure. Perhaps it began that way.
There was a fundamental misdirection, though. The people throughout the generations from Moses deemed compliance to be more important than mercy. More important than justice. More important than anything.
Compliance in the sense of rules to be followed.
In looking at the commandments, though, we might be struck that they aren’t rules as much as principles. Even in the midst of the principles, there was freedom.
Until there wasn’t.
The 10 commandments are found in Exodus, Chapter 20. The particular rule Christ engaged here is the third commandment – Remember the day of the Sabbaths to consecrate it.
No labor by anyone on this day. Not by you, or by those in your household, whether free or family or slave or visitor, not even the animals should work.
The Rabbinical traditions took that idea of work and ran with it. Work became effort. Work became anything that was active.
In so doing, the Sabbath rest was changed into something stressful. Something that made demands.
In so doing the rabbis and scribes made a subtle, almost imperceptible change to the law. Everything became about the definition. Over the generations, nothing ever backed off that idea.
Not only about what constituted labor, but what constituted Sabbath? When did it begin? When was the moment of sundown? When did it end? Was walking work? What about walking to the synagogue?
Could we open a door? A window? Start the car?
And so, what we see is Christ breaking down that barrier – that rules-based world that somehow got off-track.
Christ called the rulers of the synagogue “hypocrites”. They, as everyone, offered food and water for their animals, which required effort. However, that wasn’t work – it wasn’t labor.
Meeting the needs of others isn’t work. Not labor.
That is what Christ was saying by this miracle. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. The rules definitely fall into the category of sacrifice.
We also look to sacrifice – but not just sacrifice of ourselves. Sacrifice for the benefit of someone else.
We are in the midst of the Nativity fast, and so we abstain from certain foods. Yet that doesn’t benefit someone else. It is training.
And so, when our society takes a break to ostensibly give thanks to God in the midst of our fast, we join them.
When we celebrate with our friends and co-workers for the Nativity, we do so with great joy, not lamenting our fasting. Perhaps we constrain ourselves. Perhaps we don’t eat as much and perhaps hold a drink instead of actually drinking it.
Those things are for us – for our benefit and our strengthening.
The fellowship with others, the community we share, around these two times that we stop and remember the reason for our Thanksgiving, and the reason for our celebration.
That is what Jesus would have us do.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Glory to Jesus Christ!