Martin Buber said, “The world is not an obstacle on the way to God, it is the way.” I think that one of the things that made Jesus the Lord of the Sabbath was the way he welcomed what others saw as obstacles. For him, sabbath occurred when a woman was released from the burden of her painful back ailment. For others, sabbath was a weekly ritual that had to be done right in order to please a perfection hungry god. Jesus taught us to experience the glory of God in the midst of daily life and its struggles. Others were teaching that only those who separated themselves from family obligations and mundane tasks could be holy. Jesus showed us the importance of knowing our neighbor (literally, do you know the person next door?). John remembered this aspect of Jesus and said, “Whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Others have said that you prove yourself a Christian by avoiding anyone you think might be sinning. It is amazing how often we listen to others rather than to Jesus.
Luke tells us that the religious leaders of his day were shamed when Jesus said, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" I can easily imagine circumstances where similar faults could be found with church life today, and no one would be ashamed. Consider:
1) Our tendency to separate worship from mission. I think one of the most important aspects of any weekly gathering of Christians should be thanksgiving for the good we have been able to do through the power of prayer and announcements of new opportunities for sacrificial giving that will meet human need. It should not be unusual for a church to spend a third of its worship hour talking about how we are being in mission in these specific ways every day and spreading the love of Jesus Christ.
2) The time we waste fine tuning just who belongs and who doesn’t. Jesus uses the term, ‘daughter of Abraham’ to shame the Scribes and Pharisees. She was invisible to them, until Jesus healed her. People not on the membership role are invisible in many churches. I have written elsewhere about how many of Jesus’ teachings and actions demand that we root out the residual racism and sexual orientation prejudice that plagues the modern church. What is harder for us to feel ashamed of, is the way we today, like the Pharisees of old, value young families and the affluent as potential members of our church over the socially challenged and those who come to us plainly suffering.
3) The current moment is what matters most. The Pharisees were only asking that Jesus delay his healing of this woman for one day. What is the value of one day of suffering? Why do we spend so much time rehearsing our denominational histories and planning for future events? Right now, people are with us who need a sabbath rest before they go back to a heartbreaking life. What can we do in this moment to ease their suffering? How can we make the gospel immediate? C.H. Dodd used the term “realized eschatology” to summarize the way Jesus did ministry. I don't know if this is always good theology, but it helps me understand Jesus right now.