Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work, so come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” (Luke 13:14).
In his book on Sabbath keeping, The Rest of God, author and Pastor Mark Buchanan begins by asking a basic question: How does one define Sabbath? Buchanan rightly observes that our answers typically gravitate toward the calendar.
The Sabbath Day: Is it the first or seventh day of the week? Buchanan deftly guides our thinking away from the calendar to something deeper. Sabbath keeping is about an inner posture, a disposition of spirit. Apart from a Sabbath heart we will never keep the Sabbath day, no matter what day that is.
The same idea shows up in John Ortberg’s book Soul Keeping. Ortberg explores the difference between being busy and being hurried. Busy-ness is about my schedule and my activities. It is an outward reality that can be physically demanding. Being hurried is different. When I’m hurried, I’m preoccupied and I’m not truly present to those near me or to the activity I’m engaged in. Hurry is an inward reality that is spiritually draining. Hurry is a condition of soul.
Jesus was constantly busy. He was never hurried. He truly possessed a sabbath heart, even though he didn’t seem very careful about the sabbath laws.
In Luke 13 we have a story about a very conscientious synagogue ruler who loved the Sabbath day. He spent six days of every week thinking about the one – the Sabbath. He anticipated the gathering God’s people, the reading of the Scriptures, the Rabbi’s thoughtful exposition of what was read. Simply put, he lived for the Sabbath, guarding it, hovering over it. He had a zero-tolerance policy for slack Sabbath keepers. So on the day when Jesus touched and healed the bent-over woman, the synagogue ruler was indignant.
Our indignation reveals much about us. Interestingly, one of the seven occurrences of this word in the New Testament speaks to Jesus’ own sense of indignation, a reaction provoked when the disciples tried to prevent children from coming to him (Mark 10:13-16). For the synagogue ruler, indignation flared when a Sabbath violation was detected.
“You have six days for work. Come and be healed on one of those days, not the Sabbath.” Indignant people find it hard to celebrate. Somehow the Sabbath-loving synagogue ruler missed that a woman who had been afflicted for eighteen years had been healed, set free from her infirmity. How is it possible that he didn’t see this?
A Heart Free and Filled
When the Sabbath is imposed from the outside there will be order and decorum, there will be dignified religion and decent behavior. What will be missing is joy.
When the Sabbath becomes something forced and enforced, a system of dos and don’ts rather than something that flows from within us, we quickly lose the joy and celebration that God intended for this Holy day. Sabbath is a matter of the heart – a heart that is both free and filled.
A free heart: Free from the drive to prove something to the world, free from hurry, free from the fear that things will fall apart without your constant attention, free from the need to be indispensable to everyone with regard to everything.
And a filled heart: Filled with peace, filled with confidence in the power of God to govern the world, filled with trust that this powerful God can handle what concerns you.
God cares less about your calendar than he does your heart. Designating one day out of seven as the Sabbath day is indeed important. Cultivating a Sabbath heart is absolutely necessary.
Gracious God, I don’t want to miss the joy of Sabbath keeping. By the work of your Spirit, begin this day to cultivate a right spirit within me – a heart that is both free from fear and filled with trust. Let this coming Sabbath day be lived from the inside out, delighting in your works and resting in your grace. Amen