The sermon this week is where Jesus performs his 3rd “sign” in the gospel of John and first major controversy with Mosaic law by healing a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. The man is healed and told to “stand up, take your mat, and walk.” Then the man is questioned by the religious authorities about his “work” on the Sabbath of carrying his mat. Everyone knew that this man had been paralyzed, but their work is one of enforcement of Sabbath law and he is condemned by them. The man seeks to avoid blame by essentially saying that he was just doing what he was told. Earlier he laid the responsibility of not being healed on others. Now he lays blame on his healer for breaking the Sabbath. The healed man failed to thank his benefactor or even catch his name! When Jesus encounters the man again, he warns him not to sin again. The man has not actively shown malice toward Jesus, but it appears that his passive attitude of exporting blame is seen by Jesus as irresponsible.
After this encounter, the man takes his own initiative to identify Jesus as the one “responsible” of his violation of Sabbath law. At best this is a thoughtless act of compliance with the powers that be. At worst, it is collusion with Jesus’ enemies. Regardless, it is a disrespectful reaction to Jesus’ gracious gift.
All of this must have been disheartening for Jesus. But perhaps most difficult to take was their insistence on a false understanding of the purpose of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a gift to humanity, not a further obligation of hardship. Then Jesus really sets them off by saying: “My Father is still working, and I also am working.” (John 5:17) Jesus is saying that he and God are one and like the gracious gift given to the paralyzed man who poorly mannered in the face of the gift he has been given, the religious authorities are also missing the greater point of Sabbath rest by focusing on details of observance.
It brings to my mind Matthew 12:30, where Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Jesus is doing the work of gathering his people together, but the authorities are using this gracious gift of the Sabbath as a means of scattering the people into further division and shame. God is still working on the Sabbath to gather us into his arms of love and fellowship every day because God does not need a break, but knows that we need a break from the values of Pharaoh as seen today in the nonstop production and consumerism. Let us accept this gracious gift with our whole hearts and thank God that God is still working!
I'm a follower of Christ, husband, father, friend, pastor, story teller, asker of questions, inspired by biblical narratives, social justice advocate, sports enthusiast, drinker of over priced coffee and general seeker of God's redemptive possibilities. Yeah, that about covers it. (If you discover something else, let me know!)