When we look at today’s gospel reading, it’s easy to think that we have a conflict between the gospel and the Old Testament reading.  The two readings do not really stand in opposition to each other except perhaps in the minds of some.  The commandment is not simply about not being reachable on one’s vacation, but it more about the prayer and worship life of those who believe in God.

Sabbath does mean “to rest”, and faithful Jews observe this day of rest to honor God and creation.  Sabbath, traditionally observed from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday was and is a day where we remember that God rested after the creation.  The day is set aside to rest and to worship.  Work that is not absolutely needed is put aside for another day.  Even God rested, and so then should God’s people.  None of us can work all the time, at least not for a long time, without our bodies, minds, and spirits beginning to suffer.  Rest is a holy gift and one where we are in relationship to God and hopefully to those whom we love.  Even the fields took every seventh year off from producing so that the earth might rest and renew for the next growing season.  Holy rest should not be skipped if it is possible not to.  It is a holy time set aside for us to renew ourselves in body, mind, and spirit.

So what is happening in the gospel?  Well, the short version is that Jesus is causing some trouble.  Maybe he needs my hat… He is certainly coordinating some holy shenanigans.

I don’t think Jesus is trying to say that the sabbath isn’t important here.  There are plenty of times when Jesus goes off on his own to pray and to rest.  But what I think he IS saying is that there are situations when even the day of Sabbath has to be suspended in order to ease the suffering of God’s people…

I do not think that Jesus is putting the law of the Torah aside lightly.  We hear that he is grieved and angry at the hardness of the hearts of the Pharisees in the synagogue.  They appear to be saying that the man can be healed tomorrow, or some other day.  But Jesus knows that this man is suffering; because of his withered hand he is basically cast out of community with his neighbors and even family.  His very livelihood is dependent upon the kindness of others; his life is one of suffering.  Jesus determines that enough is enough.  The man has suffered greatly, and, at great personal cost to himself, Jesus heals him.  The man had been suffering perhaps for his whole life, what’s one more day, right? 

The answer is… one more day is too long.  Jesus, as Lord of the sabbath and the one who has brought the kingdom of God to earth has declared that the man should not suffer for one more moment; the man’s life is infinitely worth more than adherence to the law, even a law made for worship of God… why?  Perhaps because worship should change us; our prayers should drive us to act.  Our worship means nothing if we pass by someone who is suffering on our way to worship.  Humanity is made in the image and likeness of God, and we must honor God’s image in another.  Walking past this man when one can restore him to community and to life dishonors God and dishonors the sabbath.  How often have we passed by a sibling in Christ who was suffering in body, mind, or spirit, just because we were in a hurry or distracted in some way, or because we believed that what we were doing was so important that this person could wait, or worse, be forgotten?   

There is so much swirling around us all the time.  Rest, true rest in God is an important spiritual practice that we all need in our lives.  Having said that, we also need discerning hearts.  If one of God’s children is suffering in any way, and we have the means to alleviate that suffering, if is our responsibility to do so.  People who are made in the image and likeness of God, so, ALL people, are more important to God than even our worship.  We are certainly made to worship, but we are even more made to allow the Holy Spirit to live in us, to pray in us, and to move us to action for the sake of the kingdom here on earth.  God’s people matter; we matter.  Today’s gospel reminds us that God became human in Jesus because humanity matters to God.  God so loved the world… and as disciples, we are also called to love the world, so that we might do the work of bringing the kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven.  May we honor the image of God in another today, even as we take our sabbath rest, because none of us can truly rest if one of God’s children is suffering.