IN those days, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When He laid His hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should to be done, come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” When He said this, all His opponents were put to shame, and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that He was doing.
In Exodus 20:8-11 we have the commandment about the Sabbath day, where God tells Moses, "Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. You shall not do any work - you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it."
For the Jews Sabbath was a major day of rest and full dedication to God. In their interpretation of this commandment, they avoided all work...or did they?
On one particular Sabbath day, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue. Christ had His fair share of opponents, especially among the religious elite; nonetheless, He was esteemed as a great Teacher. Great teachers would be asked to give a word or teaching in synagogues, where they would read from the Scripture and give an interpretation. I guess it was sort of similar to today's sermons (except not that many priests are esteemed teachers :) ).
Jesus was asked to give a word as a respected Teacher. As He was teaching, a crippled woman appeared. Luke, being a physician, describes her illness as being crippled by a spirit. Meaning, an evil spirit. It would seem that Luke suggests that her physical illness was connected to her spiritual infirmity. She was thus crippled for long eighteen years.
We can imagine that it was not easy for her to move around, and even being a Jew, she could have used an excuse to not go to synagogue on that particular Sabbath. What if that was the day she decided to "take off" from synagogue because she was tired? She had a perfectly good excuse to do it. Then she would've missed the Lord and healing!
How was the woman healed? She appeared before Christ, did not ask for anything, rather it was He Who called her over and set her free from her ailment. Then He put His hand upon her and she stood up straight, for the first time in eighteen years.
This was too much for the leader of the synagogue, this was too much work on the Sabbath day. What work did Jesus do? Putting His hand on the woman? The leader of the synagogue basically paraphrased the commandment about the Sabbath day I provided above, when he said that there are six days to do work, including healing. He acted as if nothing miraculous happened. His interpretation of the commandment was that absolutely no work was to be done on the Sabbath. This is fine if this were actually the case among the people in the synagogue.
In His response, Christ did not say that observing Sabbath is irrelevant now that the Messiah has come. Rather He said that they have misinterpreted the commandment, and even then they did not do what they said they should do. In other words, they talked the talk, but never walked the walk. And He gave them one simple example of their hypocrisy - they do very basic work, but work nonetheless, by untying their cattle to bring them to the water. Cattle was freed from man-imposed bondage in order to get some water, shouldn't a person also be set free from satan-imposed bondage? And if it is going to be done, shouldn't it be done on the holy day, the Sabbath day to the Lord?
The Law was given to Israel to help them in the way of following God, it was never meant to be a legalistic, dividing ordinance. Part of Christ's mission was to correct a lot of misinterpretations of the Law, misinterpretations that divided the people and made them blind to seeing God working in their lives.
Yours in the Lord,
Father Aleksey - your friendly Singac priest