Meditation: What is God’s intention for the commandment, keep holy the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8; Deuteronomy 5:12)? The scribes and Pharisees wanted to catch Jesus in the act of breaking the Sabbath ritual so they might accuse him of breaking God’s law. In a few penetrating words Luke records that Jesus knew their thoughts. They were filled with fury and contempt for Jesus because they had put their own thoughts of right and wrong above God. They were ensnared in their own legalism because they did not understand or see the purpose of God. Jesus shows them their fallacy by pointing to God’s intention for the Sabbath: to do good and to save life rather than to do evil or to destroy life.
Christ’s healing power raises hands and hearts towards heaven
What is the significance of Jesus’ healing the man with the withered hand? Ambrose (337-397 AD), the 4th century bishop of Milan who was instrumental in bringing Augustine of Hippo to the Christian faith, comments on this miracle:
“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 (1 Kings 13:4-6).”
Receive God’s gift of sabbath rest and restoration
Why do Christians celebrate Sunday as the Lord’s Day? Most importantly we celebrate it to commemorate God’s work of redemption in Jesus Christ and the new work of creation accomplished through Christ’s death and resurrection (2 Corinthians 5:17). God’s action is a model for us. If God “rested and was refreshed” on the seventh day, we, too, ought to “rest” and let others, especially the poor, “be refreshed” as well (see Exodus 31:17; 23:12). Taking “our sabbath rest” is a way of expressing honor to God for all that he has done for us. Such “rest” however does not exempt us from our love for our neighbor. If we truly love the Lord above all else, then the love of God will overflow to love of neighbor as well. Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) said: “The charity of truth seeks holy leisure; the necessity of charity accepts just work.”
How can we make Sunday a day holy to the Lord? First, by refraining from unnecessary work and from activities that hinder the worship we owe to God. We can also perform works of mercy, such as humble service of the sick, the infirm, and the neglected. And we ought to seek appropriate relaxation of mind and body as well. The joy of the Lord’s Day is a great gift to refresh and strengthen us in our love of God and of neighbor (Nehemiah 8:10). Do you know the joy of the Lord and do you find rest and refreshment in celebrating the Lord’s Day?
Lord Jesus, in your victory over sin and death on the cross and in your resurrection you give us the assurance of sharing in the eternal rest of heaven. Transform my heart with your love that I may freely serve my neighbor for his good and find joy and refreshment in the celebration of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. [Selah]
9 Men of low estate are but a breath, men of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: Jesus heals to teach the Pharisees mercy, by Cyril of Alexandria (376-444 AD)
“The miracle sometimes converts to faith those who had disbelieved the word, but the Pharisees watched him to see if he would heal on the sabbath. The nature of an envious person is such that he makes the praises of others food for his own disease and is wickedly maddened by their reputation. Once more he spoke to this; ‘he reveals deep and mysterious things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him’ (Daniel 2:22). And why did he do this? Perhaps it might be to move the cruel and unpitying Pharisee to compassion. The man’s malady [his withered hand] perhaps might shame them and persuade them to dispel the flames of their envy.
“This question is most wise indeed and a most suitable statement to meet their folly. If it is lawful to do good on the sabbath and nothing prevents the sick being pitied by God, cease picking up opportunities for fault-finding against Christ and bringing down on your own head the sentence which the Father has decreed against those who dishonor the Son. You have heard the Father where he says of the Son by the voice of David, ‘I will crush his foes before him and strike down those who hate him’ (Psalm 89:23). But if it is not lawful to do good on the sabbath and the law forbids the saving of life, you have made yourself an accuser of the law.” (quote from COMMENTARY ON LUKE, HOMILY 23).