Isaiah 58 9b-14, Luke 13:10-17
In the name of the Living God, loving Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit Amen
Let’s start with a story – so if you are sitting comfortably I shall begin. The lion was proud of his mastery of the animal realm, so one day he decided to tour the jungle to check on the obedience of his subjects. He went straight to the rhinoceros. “Who is the king of the jungle?” the lion growled. “Why you are of course,” the rhinoceros stammered. The lion gave a mighty roar of approval.
Next he asked the tiger, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger bowed and answered quickly, “O mighty lion, everyone knows it’s you.” Next the lion found an aged elephant who happened to suffer from a painful tusk. “Who is the king of the jungle?” the lion asked with an earth-shaking roar that made the elephant’s tusk throb and her head pound. The old elephant seized the lion in her trunk, whirled him overhead, and slammed him against a tree, pounded him on the ground by his tail, and dunked him in the watering hole until he stopped making bubbles. Finally she tossed the half-dead lion on the bank and sauntered off.
The lion staggered to his feet, coughed up half the watering hole, and looked around at the crowd of hyenas and monkeys that had gathered to watch. “Just because she didn’t know the answer, she didn’t need to get mean about it,” he said haughtily and limped into the underbrush.
Through the prophet Isaiah, our God tried to make certain that no one could think that God was such a king as this unfortunate lion. The point being made in our old Testament reading from Isaiah is that only the living God could make the heavens and the earth, foretell the future, and control the destinies of nations and the individuals within each nation. Only God reigns in heaven above and on earth below. Then in worshipping God – it needs to be about God first and foremost,and not about our own preferences.
This part of Isaiah is written when the Jewish people have returned to Jerusalem, and in the process of rebuilding the temple. Things as they say are on the up for them after several hundred years of terrible times. In these words we have pointers to this like – 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; and you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
However as is the way when things start to get better, the people were obviously also beginning to move away from their need for God and doing things to their own design and to meet their own needs rather than the path God had for them. This is most keenly characterised in their approach to the Sabbath. The voice of God to the people of Judah through his servant Isaiah begins thus with three sentences beginning with if:
The first is 13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day. This is about taking time to be with God and not going after everything else – a lesson we also need today surely. Where 24/7 is more prevalent than 6 days shalt thou labour and rest on the 7th! The human is not designed to work flat out all the time and we know the consequences of this choice if we try it (or if we know people who have). Yes – we can manage it for a while, but eventually the wheel will come off our wagon and it is often not remotely pretty when it does!
The next if – asks us to take a different approach to Sabbath rest than the devices and desires of our own interests – if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honourable; This is definitely a call to make our Sabbath rest distinctive and important. In our day and age I don’t think it is for the extremes of Jewish observance, but time to be, time to reflect, pray and worship God, time spent in recreation, time spent with our nearest and dearest and time spent refreshing ourselves for the work ahead. Honouring ourselves in the sight of God’s awesome holiness and respecting time as a gift and a delight
The third if continues to point out the perils of the path of self-interest and more rigorously – if you honour it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; But this is then followed by the reassurance of the better way 14then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
Several hundred years later in the synagogue on the Sabbath, we then encountered Jesus seemingly on the wrong side of the Sabbath too. At least according to the leader of the synagogue who was outraged that Jesus healed the crippled woman. What Jesus was doing was asking the Sabbath to be life-giving rather than a mass of rules and regulations. He was striking at the heart of the matter that worship should be our delight and our first instinct, and not be bound up in legalism and laws. In his day – the required strict Sabbath observance was really only possible for those who had means where as it should be for everyone.
In a way this does bring us back full circle to the kind of King the lion was where it was all about fear and not daring to step out of line, except if the citizen was stronger than him like the elephant. The kind of kingship Jesus has over our lives is not about legalism and rules and laws. What we should or should not be doing which so governed the lives of the Jewish people of his day. It is about matters of the heart. Sabbath is without doubt a good discipline and life giving for us, but it must include making space for delight in the Lord and should be approached with a lightness of Spirit.
That made Jesus heal this woman, release her from years of suffering and made her whole. I am going to end with some wise words from an ancient monk called Dorotheos. He tells us to think of God and humans as the centre and circumference of a circle. Any time two of us humans here on the edge move towards God at the centre, we will by necessity be moving towards one another. Likewise if we are moving away from one another, then we cannot be moving towards God! Amen.
The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995
Story addapted © ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2022. Reproduced with permission.
Commentary ideas of Dorotheos – Connections – A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship – Edited by Joel Green et al