This week, in the Narrative Lectionary, we encounter the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees for the first time. This conflict has been brewing for a while (see chapter 5), but it escalates here with the discussion over what can, and cannot, be done on the Sabbath day. As a preacher it may be tempting to spend time speaking about the arguments involved here, but Jesus didn’t engage with these, so I think neither should we. For your own research, you can find the law about the Sabbath in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, and the story about David and the “Bread of the Presence” in 1 Samuel 21.
The traditional way to preach this passage would be to speak about the need for a Sabbath day in our lives. In this present day context, this may be particularly relevant. Some of your congregation may be wondering how you make one day a week holy, or set apart, when each day is the same as the last. Others may be crying out for a break, a chance to rest and recharge, but can’t see a way of fitting this into their busy lives. I’ve recently heard an expert on health advising a weekly “Sabbath” break from all technology for the sake of our mental health.
An alternative way to preach this would be to see ourselves as the Pharisees in the story. I have become more and more convinced that we are in danger of having far more in common with them than with Jesus, the disciples, or the ones being healed. How often are we the Pharisees coming up against Jesus? Can we hear ourselves complaining about things not being done as they should? Can we recall the times when we’ve been so caught up in the minute details that we have missed God in our midst? Does the way we interpret Scripture, the way we use it to pour out scorn, or blame, simply stop people from enjoying their summer days walking in the fields, picking and eating grain? Jesus’ question, “does it do good or does it cause harm, does it save life or does it destroy it?” (paraphrase mine) is an excellent measure with which we can weigh up our words and our intentions.
Having said all that, I find that we, like the Pharisees, are at risk of missing what is happening in these stories. We so easily fail to see the disabled man who is standing before Jesus in the synagogue. Somehow he becomes invisible. We might even have sympathy for the Pharisees’ argument that surely he could wait until the Sabbath was over. Come back tomorrow. This is a salutary warning for ourselves and our congregations who often overlook those with disabilities and additional needs. Look! Here we have a man who is healed and we nearly missed it! In these days of pandemic we all need to hear about the healing power of Jesus who recognises us for who we are, and has compassion upon us. He doesn’t make us wait another day, for his presence and power to be in our lives.
Rev Dr Jean Kirkwood is a parish minister working in two ex-mining villages in the east of Scotland. You can find her blog at Scottishkirk.wordpress.
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