“The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.”
We might understand how the Jews would reject Jesus’ claim to be Lord of the Sabbath since to claim so would be to claim to be God. But the Jews had trouble seeing God in the Sabbath anyway.
The problem was that under the human laws that had been added to God’s Law, the Jews had difficulty in seeing God. The Jewish leaders had taken God’s holy day and obscured its meaning by their own inventions, so much so that Jesus had to remind everyone that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.
Those foolish Jews! I’m so glad we’re not like them. Imagine – thinking that the Sabbath was more important than people!
I hate to bring it up . . . but maybe there are some things in our lives that are like the Sabbath for the Jews. I’ll bet if you think hard enough you may even find some in your life. Aren’t there some things in your life that you think are the most important things but that you also think of as self-governing, apart from God? Are there things in your life that you treat as so sacrosanct that even God Himself dare not intrude?
For the Jews, the Sabbath had become an authority that was independent of God. It had become a tyrant that had to be obeyed at all costs but that was often obeyed with only an oblique reference to God Himself, who is the point of the Sabbath and every other day. At least the Jews in their treatment of the Sabbath were starting with the worship that God had ordained. Strict Sabbatarianism, in which all amusements and any kind of work whatsoever are forbidden and which takes the joy out of the Lord’s Day, creates a similar problem of having a distortion of the Lord’s good gifts obscure the Lord Himself.
But too often we take the ordinary parts of creation and of our lives and turn them into the Law and a slave driver. “I must make sure that all of my kids get to go to all of the events that I think should fill up their lives. Even though it means that we will never eat a common meal together or have family devotions, I must obey.”
“I must devote all of the time not specifically assigned to working for a living to pursuing fun, because having fun is the prime directive. Even if fun stops being fun, and even if it means I have to forego opportunities to serve others, I must obey.”
The problem with all of our man-made laws and ways of living without God is that, like the man in Luke 6, we all have withered hands. Without God, our hands are atrophied or palsied toward doing the things He has created them to do. Miraculously, however, they find strength to do the things we want to do with them. It’s actually worse than just a problem with our hands: our brains send our hands the wrong messages about what they should be doing, and, of course, it all begins with a bad heart.
So what is the cure to Sabbatarianism of all kinds, in which we take the good gifts of God and obscure their intended use and obscure God Himself by making them a law unto themselves?
“Stretch out your hand.” That’s the cure. Offer God your hand that He might take it in His own. Offer your hand as a pledge of not only your hand but also your arm and not only your arm but also your body, your mind, and your soul. Offer up your hand to God as an extension and symbol of yourself and of your life.
St. Ambrose said, “Then you heard the words of the Lord, saying, ‘Stretch forth your hand.’ That is the common and universal remedy. You who think that you have a healthy hand beware lest it is withered by greed or by sacrilege. Hold it out often. Hold it out to the poor person who begs you. Hold it out to help your neighbor, to give protection to a widow, to snatch from harm one whom you see subjected to unjust insult. Hold it out to God for your sins. The hand is stretched forth; then it is healed. Jeroboam’s hand withered when he sacrificed to idols; then it stretched out when he entreated God.”
Take all of the old wine of your life, pack it up in your old wineskins, and offer it up to God. Offer it all to God, without reservation and without clinging to yourself, that He might “strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed” (Hebrews 12:12).
Prayer: Lord, here I stretch out my hand to You that You may take it and heal it. More than this, here is my hand that You, who are its rightful owner, might take it and make it yours again. I freely give it to you that You might make it clean and healthy and profitable to You again. Lord, take and wash not only my hand but also my feet and my head and everything in between. Amen.
Point for Meditation: Go through your life, item by item, and offer up each part specifically to God. Consider especially the things that you have claimed as your own, apart from God, and offer them back to Him.
Resolution: I resolve to take one specific part of my life that I am trying to run by myself and offer it up to God today.
Jesus Heals Man with Withered Hand on the Sabbath – U.S. Public Domain