Sunday, September 26, 2021

The End of Unity

Sermon for the seventeenth Sunday after Trinity

The Lord Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath Day. The Scribes and Pharisees are scandalised. They cannot offer an explanation as to why it is not lawful to heal on the Sabbath Day. 

But can't you sympathise with them a bit? After all, it's there in the Ten Commandments. Keep the Sabbath holy. Do no work on the Sabbath. And there are lists and rules to tell you what is meant by work. This is a law given by God Himself to Moses. Surely, the Scribes and Pharisees are right to worry about the business of healing someone on the Sabbath, aren't they?


We often get accused of observing petty rules, too, don't we? We have rules about fasting, rules about moral conduct especially in private matters , rules about how the Church should be run. Is Jesus saying that we need to forget the rules sometimes and do what feels right?

If so, do rules really matter if they can be disobeyed with God's approval? What if it's the rules that God Himself gives that can be disobeyed with God's approval? Does this not make them completely arbitrary?


As always, the Lord is making a point. The rules for the Sabbath Day have been made for a reason. To do no work on the Sabbath Day is a clear statement of freedom. Only slaves work all the time. But to save your ass or your ox from a pit is to save your livelihood and your ability to control how and when you work. It isn't every day that your ox falls on a pit, so it isn't every day you have to get them out. It is still in keeping with the Sabbath and it is still true that one should do no work on the Sabbath.

The rules of the Sabbath Day have a clear purpose, one that is rooted in God's love for us. We need to rest and God provides us an opportunity to take that rest and tells us to treat it seriously by separating it from the rest of the week. He is acting less like a Commander and more like a Father.

This is true of all God's laws. They are not arbitrary: they point us to where we're going. They have a reason and there are times when the spirit of the law is more important than the letter of the law. Look at how Our Lord actually makes the rules tougher when He says that even to be angry with someone is like murdering them. Look how He says that lusting after someone is committing adultery. 

Behind every rule is a reason and that reason must point us and lead us to God.


The rules of the Church sometimes seem arbitrary and wrong. But the spirit behind them can show us why they are necessary and just how far they apply. Wearing the wrong colour chasuble won't invalidate the Mass but it will stand out against what the rest of the Church is doing. 

At every stage, our every action needs to be weighed against what God wants for us as individuals and as a species. The Church serves as a means to help people realise who they are. The rules of the Church are there to help people progress to their common end - unity with the Most Holy God in His Kingdom. 

Healing on the Sabbath is not only permissible, it is mandatory for the good of another, for love is ever abiding. 


So we, the Church, stand up and say, "yes, Lord, it is permissible to heal on the Sabbath!"

And then we say, "but heal us, too, Lord!"

And then He does.

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