Saturday, February 07, 2009

Palace of Time - a Place of Healing

I know - it's been almost a year. I said there would be a next time, it just took a lot longer than I thought. I'm not going to explain my absence other than to say I needed the rest. But now I'm back. Matthew's story still calls to me and I can no longer ignore it. So let's just pick up where we left off, shall we?

In our last episode, I talked about the Sabbath being a Palace of Time, a place where we could escape the hustle of the daily agenda and find time to spend with God exploring who He is and who we are in Him. But the Sabbath is not just about getting some rest. There's more to it than that.

He went on from there and entered their synagogue. And a man was there with a withered hand. And they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—so that they might accuse him. He said to them, “Which one of you who has a sheep, if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Now, the Pharisees actually have a point to make here. You see the prevailing wisdom of the day was that while it was lawful to heal on the Sabbath, it was only in the case of life-threatening situations. They acknowledged that allowing a living thing to die by inaction was no way to honour God on His Sabbath; but the man with the withered hand was in no danger. His healing could wait a day and the sanctity of the Sabbath would be maintained. In some respects it was a reasonable argument.

But Jesus doesn't see the argument as reasonable at all, because to Jesus suffering is suffering and needs to be relieved. He points out the flaw in the Pharisees reasoning, because even they themselves would rescue an animal on the Sabbath, "of how much more value is a man than a sheep?"

Jesus, as Lord of the Sabbath, makes it clear that to end suffering, to help the helpless, to do good, is lawful at anytime, even on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not just a Palace of Time, it is also a Time of Healing. An opportunity to relieve the stress that withers our spirits during the week and allow ourselves to reach out to God and be restored. It also calls us to reach out and be a source of healing as we gather with those we care for and let them find restoration in a time of fellowship.

It is, as Jesus made clear, a time to do good. The most acceptable form of work on the sabbath was the ministrations of the priests in the temple as they offered the showbread in recognition of God's provision. (Jesus makes reference to this in the previous section.) In like manner I believe the sabbath is a time for us, and as citizens of a priestly kingdom, to offer ourselves to the benefit of others; to use the time to participate in the healing of the community provided by the fellowship we experience in the Palace of Time.

But the episode doesn't end there.

Jesus, aware of this, withdrew from there. And many followed him, and he healed them all and ordered them not to make him known. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah:

“Behold, my servant whom I have chosen,
my beloved with whom my soul is well pleased.

I will put my Spirit upon him,
and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

He will not quarrel or cry aloud,
nor will anyone hear his voice in the streets;

a bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not quench,
until he brings justice to victory;
and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

Jesus withdraws to another place. Some would look upon this as a retreat, but rather I think He is looking to avoid letting the confrontation escalate until the time is right. He withdraws because the Gospel of the kingdom is not about confrontation, it is not about winning a theological Battle Royale. Rather it is about hope.

And who is the hope for? Oddly enough it is for us, the Gentiles. Those who until this point in history have been excluded from the Gospel Kingdom. I mentioned at the beginning of the process that I felt Matthew was writing not to a Jewish audience exclusively as others have suggested, but rather to a mixed audience. A church of Jewish believers and Gentile converts likely struggling to get along. It is passages such as this one that re-enforce my feelings on this.

The Jewish believers needed to understand why they were worshiping God in fellowship with Gentiles. They needed to understand, and still do, that it was God's plan from the beginning to heal the rift that started in the days of Abraham.

And the Gentile converts among them, these new Christians, they needed hope. They needed to know that God had never abandoned them. They needed to know, as do we, that the gift of salvation, that citizenry in the Gospel kingdom is not about race, or nationality, or how well you can slice and dice the scriptures until they resemble the Word no more than french fries resemble a potato. No... it is about faith, and faith alone.

Faith in the one who gave the Sabbath to mankind that in it we might find refreshment and renewal. A moment in which we might find a fresh start, an opportunity to put the past behind us and begin a new week, revived by fellowship with God and with each other.

Until next time... Shalom.

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