The Galilean section of the Gospel of Luke (Lk 4;14--9:50) begins with a programmatic expansion of Mark 6:1-6 where Jesus is depicted in the synagogue at Nazareth on the sabbath day reading, what purports to be, a haftarah passage1 from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and delivering an inaugural sermon (4:16-30). That this occasion takes place on a sabbath is purposeful. It is the first of six Lukan accounts of Jesus’ activity on a sabbath.2 It is most significant that it is on a sabbath that Jesus proclaims the “acceptance year of the Lord” (Lk 4:19), i.e., the Messianic Jubilee.
The Jubilee year, which is based on a multiple of seven Sabbatical Years, speaks of a return to family inheritance for all those who have been alienated from their land.
The number “seven” recalls the Sabbath, the seventh day which the Israelites were commanded to “keep holy” (Exod 20:8; Deut 5:12); the day on which God “rested” from creation (Gen 2:2-3).3 The Sabbath, “the cornerstone of Judaism,” is as Nahum Sarna points out, “the sole exception to the otherwise universal practice of basing all the major units of time--months and seasons, as well as years--on the phases of the moon and solar cycle.” (1991: 111). Thus, it is “completely dissociated from the movement of celestial bodies” and the moon and by that fact “expresses the quintessential idea of Israel’s monotheism: God is entirely outside of and sovereign over nature” (1991: 111).
The insertion of the sabbath command at the beginning of the calendar of annual festivals in Leviticus 23 even though the Sabbath is not, strictly speaking, a calendrical festival, suggests that the festivals that follow, are meant to find their theological roots in the Sabbath:
Seven weeks after Pesach or Passover (Lev 23:5-8) is the feast of Shavu’ot or Weeks (also called Pentecost; Lev 23:9-21), and in the seventh month are the New Year celebration (Rosh HaShannah) on the first day (Lev 23:23-25), Yom Kippur or the day of Atonement on the tenth day (Lev 23:26-32; Lev 16), and the festival ofSuccoth (also called Booths or Tabernacles) on the fifteenth day (which like Passover coincides with the time of the full moon; Lev 23:33-36). Every forty-nine/fifty years the day of Atonement becomes also the day on which the Jubilee is to be announced: Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud; on the tenth day of the seventh month--on the day of atonement--you shall have the trumpet sounded throughout all your land (Lev 25:9; see vv 8-17). The institution of the seventh year, the year of release (Exod 23:10-11; Lev 15:1-7; Deut 15:1-11), rounds-off the multiples of seven beginning with the seventh day.
While the origins of the Sabbath are shrouded in mystery (Hasel 1992: 849-56), the Sabbath appears in a variety of passages, narrative and legal, in both Testaments, as well as in the literature of Second Temple Judaism (such as Qumran, apocryphal and pseudeigraphical literature). The talmudic tractate on the Sabbath occupies more than three hundred large pages (Levenson 1998: 13; Goldberg 1991: 32).
How does one “keep holy” the Sabbath day? According to the Deuteronomic version of the Sabbath command (Deut 5:12-15), the Sabbath was a day to effectivity: “remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deut 5:15). Effective remembrance is spelled out in the command to free from labor all members of your household on the Sabbath in memory of the liberation from the slavery of Egypt. All (even the animals) are to experience freedom on the Sabbath as a symbolic and effective remembrance of the liberation from Egyptian slavery. The Sabbath year, which is a multiple of Sabbaths carries this idea of freedom or “release’ into the economic life of an agrarian people by calling for the rest for the land (Exod 23:10-11; Lev 23:1-7), remission of debt (Deut 15:1-6), and release from debt slavery (Exod 21:1-11; Deut 15:12-18) in the seventh year.
The Jubilee year is to be made holy just as the Sabbath day is made holy: “And you shall hallow the fiftieth year...(Lev 25:10a). The same Hebrew verb meaning “to sanctify” or “make holy,” which is used in relation to the sanctification of the Sabbath day, is intentionally used here.4 And since the biblical Jubilee Year is a multiple of Sabbath years it also bears the notion of release, freedom or liberation:”... and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants” (Lev 25:10b). It brings a freedom equivalent to seven times seven Sabbath years. It is a time of a four-fold release: release of the land-holder from alienation from his land (Lev 25:8-17), release from debt (Deut 15:1-11), release from debt slavery (Exod 21:2), and release from captivity (Isa 61:1) It is this radical notion of jubilee release that has been picked up in the Gospel of Luke in its portrayal of Jesus as announcing the messianic jubilee in the synagogue at Nazareth on a Sabbath day (Lk 4:16-30, especially vv 18-19).
Half a century ago, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972) wrote movingly, and profoundly about the holiness of the Sabbath.5 This slim volume was one of his earliest, shortest and most beautiful of writings. Regarded as “a gem of spiritual writing,” The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man, “remains the best introduction to the inner spiritual world of the ideal Sabbath-observant Jew” (Levenson 1998: 13).”Judaism,” Heschel wrote, “is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time.... Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.” (Heschel 1992:8). The Jews are taught to be “attached to holiness in time,” and “the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals” in time (1992:8).
One of the most distinguished biblical words, Heschel argues, is the wordqadosh, meaning holy “a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine.” This word is used for the first time in the Bible at the conclusion to the story of creation in Genesis 2:1-3 where it is applied to time: “And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy... [Thus] when history began, there was only one holiness in the world, holiness in time” (1992:9).”
Rabbi Heschel’s reflections begin by offering a dichotomy between space and time. For him technical civilization amounted to the human conquest of space, often at the expense of time. “The power we attain in the world of space,” he wrote, “terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence.” (1992:3). Jon Levenson is, however, critical of Heschel’s time-space dichotomy, feeling that Heschel fails to give adequate attention to other biblical passages that do indeed speak of objects, and even people, in space that partake of holiness.6 “His claim,” Levenson writes, “that “time was hallowed by God; space, the Tabernacle, was consecrated by Moses’ is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand, for Moses’ acts of consecration ... were at God’s specific behest.”
On the other hand, however, there is something “remarkably prescient” in “Heschel’s critique of unchecked technology.”
Heschel’s prescient critique of industrialized and technological civilization half a century ago is carried forward in Walter Brueggemann’s commentaries on Genesis and Exodus. In his reflection on the Sabbath command, Brueggemann writes insightfully:
The Sabbath as a day to cease becomes “an assertion that life does not depend upon our feverish activity of self-securing, but that there can be a pause in which life is given to us simply as a gift” (1982: 35). Brueggemann further elaborates the significance of the Sabbath in a series of descriptive statements. The Sabbath, as a day to cease, discloses that the God of Israel is not anxious about creation; it is a kerygmatic statement that the world will not disintegrate if our efforts stop; it is “a sociological expression of a new humanity willed by God...a day of revolutionary equality” when no one, not even the animals, works (see: Exod 20:8-11); it is a faithful reminder of how creation is intended. The New Testament proclaims Jesus as “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mk 2:28, Lk 6:5), which, for Brueggemann, signifies “a break with the old order of dehumanizing exploitation.” In brief, keeping sabbath is a means of “breaking with the world of frantic self-securing” and a way to know God and God’s commitment to the world, and as such, “an invitation to form a new kind of human community (1982: 35-36).
Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Luke (4:16-30) takes place, as we have seen, in the synagogue of Nazareth on the Sabbath day. Immediately after this, Jesus goes to Capernaum where he exorcises an unclean spirit also in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Jesus thus restores a man to wholeness on the Sabbath day (Lk 4:31-37; par. Mk 1:21-29). As a result “a report about him began to reach every place in the region” (Lk 4:37). In a second pair of narratives taken from Mark, Luke records the disciples’ act of plucking grain (6:1-5), see also Mk 2; 23-28; Mt 12:1-8 and Jesus’ healing of a man with a withered hand (6:6-11), see also Mk. 3:1-5; Mt 12:9-14, each of which also takes place on a Sabbath day. Both acts elicit a negative response from Pharisaic opposition-- “the Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath” (6:5)8 and “is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to destroy it?” (6:9)--find an echo in a rabbinic saying cited by Rabbi Haschel: “The Sabbath is given unto you, not you unto the Sabbath” (Mekilta to 31:13). Heschel continues, “the ancient rabbis knew that excessive piety may endanger the fulfilment of the essence of the law:
The next two instances of Jesus’ healing on a Sabbath are unique to Luke, the healing of the bent over woman (13:10-17) and the healing of the man with dropsy (14:1-6). Luke often provides stories in pairs of male and female.10 There are several parallels between these two stories--both take place on the Sabbath, both involve controversy either with a synagogue leader or the Pharisees, both report a pronouncement as well as a healing, and in both Jesus issues an invitation to his opponents to reason (Culpepper 1995:273). A major difference between the two is that the story of the bent over woman takes place in a synagogue (the last appearance of Jesus in a synagogue in Luke), while the story of the man occurs at a banquet.
A woman appears in the synagogue on the Sabbath day “with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight” (13:11). Jesus tells her that she is set free from her ailment, and when he lays his hands upon her “immediately she stood up straight and began praising God” (v 13). The healing provokes conflict as the synagogue leader was “indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath” (v 14). Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the synagogue leader using a common rabbinic argument from the lesser to the greater (qal wah™mer in Hebrew). Should not this “daughter of Abraham” receive as much and even more attention than that which would be given to a farm animal? An animal would be untied and led to the water trough on the Sabbath. Should this woman not be released from her eighteen years of bondage on the Sabbath as well? To the leader’s claim that the Sabbath must be observed, Jesus offered a counter-claim that there was a greater need to free a human being from whatever bound her and prevented her from rising to her full stature. What Jesus has done for this woman fulfills his commission to release captives from the bonds of evil (4:18). What Jesus does on the Sabbath is truly a celebration of the Sabbath’s deeper meaning, i.e., release from the effects of the fallen order. For Jesus understands the purpose of the Sabbath’s to be fulfilled not by forbidding works of compassion, but by encouraging them (Karris 1990: 705).
The final Lukan Sabbath controversy has its setting at a meal and not in the synagogue. As Alan Culpepper observes, the scene might be distinctive, a meal rather than the synagogue, but the issue has not changed, the issue is still whether human needs take precedence over Sabbath observance. The fact that the religious leaders were silent in the face of Jesus’ question, “is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?” conceded the victory to Jesus, who understood that the true meaning of the Sabbath had to do with restoration or wholeness. Both the bent over woman and the man suffering from dropsy were made whole on the Sabbath day. In Jesus, “religious duties are redefined to place priority on meeting the physical needs of fellow human beings (Culpepper 1995: 285).
That Jesus announces the messianic jubilee on the Sabbath is, therefore, of great significance. The Jubilee is a multiple of seven times seven sabbatical years. Seven, the number of fullness, wholeness and completion, suggests that the most profound meaning of the Jubilee is to be a time of wholeness and fullness beyond comprehension. But the Jubilee comes only rarely in the life cycle of a human being, the Sabbath is a weekly opportunity for something like a mini-Jubilee where jubilee release and restoration can be practiced.
Early in the history of the Christian community, Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, began to replace the seventh day as the Christian “sabbath.” In two apostolic letters of the last decade of the 20th century, Pope John Paul II attempts to revive the notion of Sunday as the “Lord’s Day” and the Christian sabbath.
In his apostolic letter Tertio Millenio Adveniente, (“The Coming of the Third Millenium;” TMA, 1994). John Paul II speaks of the turn of a millennium as an opportunity for reflection on the meaning of time. In the opening paragraph, the pope cites Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4). The turn of a millennium brings us to recall once again the meaning of the phrase “the fullness of time,” which “coincides with the mystery of the Incarnation of the Word, of the Son who is of one being with the Father, and with the mystery of the redemption of the world” (TMA, #1). Echoing notions met above in Rabbi Heschel’s profound meditation on the meaning of the Sabbath, the pontiff speaks of “the fundamental importance” of time in Christianity. For it was within the dimension of time that the world was created, it is within time that the history of salvation unfolds and it is within time that the Church lives out the last days. In the Incarnation, eternity entered time (TMA, #9) and in Jesus Christ time becomes a dimension of God (TMA, #10). We , therefore, have a “duty to sanctify time” both individually and communally through the liturgical cycle. It is in the Easter Vigil liturgy that we proclaim Christ as the lord of time (TMA, #10). It is against this background reflection on the sanctification of time that John Paul II speaks of the custom of Jubilees begun in the Old Testament and continued in the New Testament where it is written that the long-expected time has come to its fulfilment in Jesus (TMA, #11). The pope asserts that all jubilees point to the fulness of time, the day of salvation, which has come in Christ Jesus (TMA, #12).
Most Catholics are familiar with Tertio Millenio Adveniente since the remote proximate preparations for the opening of the Jubilee Year were carried out in the parishes over a period of about six years. What is, perhaps, not so well known is a subsequent apostolic letter which builds on the theme of the sanctification of time so prominent in the early pages of TMA, Dies Domini (John Paul II 1998) and in which the pope attempts to reclaim Sunday for Christian life: “The coming of the Third Millennium ... invites [believers] to rediscover with new intensity the meaning of Sunday: its mystery, its celebration, its significance for Christian and human life” (DD #3). Since the very early days of Christianity, Sunday has been the Lord’s Day (Rev 1:10),11 and “the lord of days ... the fundamental feast day” (DD #2). Sunday is “the weekly Easter” which recalls the first day of creation (Gen 1:3-5) and looks forward to the last (DD #2). It is above all “an Easter celebration” (DD #8).
Dies Domini’s five chapters each deal with a different aspect of the day of Sunday. The first chapter focuses on the day as a celebration of the work of the Creator. “In order to grasp fully the meaning of Sunday...we must re-read the great story of creation and deepen our understanding of the theology of the “Sabbath’” (DD #8). Here the Christian “Sabbath’s” profound dependence on the Jewish Sabbath clearly emerges. The creation story of Genesis 1:1-2:4a, with its seven-fold refrain “God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:10, 12, etc.), is described as “a hymn to the goodness of creation, all fashioned by the mighty and merciful hand of God” (DD #9). In this connection, Rabbi Heschel’s comment is particularly apt, “the idea of the good is penultimate; it cannot exist without the holy. The good is the base, the Holy is the summit. Things created in six days He considered good, the seventh day He made holy” (1992: 75). For Heschel, the Sabbath is “Spirit in the form of time” giving our spirits an opportunity to soar to eternity, to aspire to the holy, “to raise the good to the level of the holy” (1992: 75).
The conclusion of the first chapter, speaks of the movement in the Christian tradition “from the Sabbath to Sunday,” since Christians “saw the definitive time inaugurated by Christ as a new beginning.” In Christian understanding “the true Sabbath is the person of our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus Christ.”
It is in the light of this mystery, that the Christian community moved “from the “Sabbath’ to the “first day after the Sabbath,’ from the seventh day to the first day: the dies Domini becomes the dies Christi!” (DD# 18).
The theme of the dies Christi (chap 2) is developed by an exploration of the intimate bond between Sunday and the Resurrection. “Although the Lord’s Day is rooted in the very work of creation and even more in the mystery of the biblical “rest’ of God, it is nonetheless to the Resurrection of Christ that we must look in order to understand fully the Lord’s Day” (DD #19). It is because of the resurrection experience “on the first day of the week” that, from apostolic times, “the first day of the week, began to shape the rhythm of life for Christ’s disciples (cf. 1 Cor 16:2)” (DD #21). Ultimately it was this profound understanding of Sunday as “the Lord’s Day” that led to Christ being given “the same title which the Septuagint used to translate what in the revelation of the Old Testament was the unutterable name of God: YHWH” (DD #21).
The linkage of the Christian Sunday with the Old Testament Sabbath led to a new theological insight.
A complementary symbolism, that of “the eight day” also suggested itself, evoking not only the beginning of time but also its end, its eschaton. These, and other developments, made the Christian Sunday and its celebration “an indispensable element of our Christian identity” (DD #29).
At the center of the document is the chapter Dies Ecclesiae, the “Day of the Church” (chap 3), which focuses on the Eucharistic Assembly as “the heart of Sunday,” and the Sunday Eucharist as “the paradigm for other eucharistic assemblies.” At this point John Paul II makes reference to an important paragraph from Dei Verbum (“On Divine Revelation”) promulgated at the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council:
Dies Domini goes on to develop the importance of the liturgical proclamation of the word as a time of dialogue between God and people and to stress the great responsibility incumbent upon those who exercise the ministry of the word. “It is their duty to prepare the reflection on the word of the Lord by prayer and study of the sacred text” (DD #40).
The fourth chapter endeavors to recover the biblical theology of the “Sabbath,” which is understood as a
The document affirms that “the underlying reasons for keeping “the Lord’s Day’ holy--which are inscribed solemnly in the Ten Commandments--remain valid, though they need to be reinterpreted in the light of the theology and spirituality of Sunday. Citing the Deuteronomic version of the Sabbath command (Deut 5:12-15),Dies Domini notes that here “the Sabbath observance is closely linked with the liberation which God accomplished for his people” (DD #62). Against this it is seen that “Christ came to accomplish a new “exodus,’ to restore freedom to the oppressed. He performed many healings on the Sabbath (cf. Mt 12:9-14 and parallels)... to reveal its full meaning” (DD #63).
The final chapter, reverts to the notion of the sanctification of time, recalling the reflections of Tertio Millenio Adveniente:
Jesus’ ministry, as presented by Luke, had a Jubilee flavor (Graham 1978 and Ringe 1985.). The Jubilee, a multiple of seven sabbatical years, has roots in the Sabbath, the seventh day. It is, one might say, a time of wholeness and fullness beyond comprehension; a time when all is set right again. Jesus’ inaugural sermon, his announcement of the Messianic Jubilee significantly takes place in the synagogue at Nazareth on a sabbath day. Many of Jesus’ exorcisms and healings also take place on a sabbath. Thus we once again observe the suggestive connection between the seventh day and the seven times seven years of the Jubilee. Jesus takes a stand, as it were, in the controversy over the Sabbath. For Jesus “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mk 2:27; cf. Lk 6:5). Religious observance is thus redefined, in Jesus, to give priority to the needs of human beings.
As part of the celebration of the Jubilee 2000, Pope John Paul II has attempted to recover and rediscover the celebration of the Christian “sabbath,” termed “the weekly Easter,” which also finds its theological origins in the Jewish Sabbath. Jubilee comes so rarely, every fifty years (even every twenty-five years). And great Jubilees come only every millennium. Humanity cannot wait for the Jubilee in order to proclaim a four or five-fold release. The Jewish Sabbath and the “weekly Easter” provide the occasion for religious people to step back and evaluate how we have kept faith, or failed to keep faith, with the God of creation who wills good for all of creation. More than simply a day to “go to church or synagogue,” the Lord’s Day can serve as “a faithful reminder” of how creation was intended by the Creator. It can serve as a time to take a serious look at our so-called human progress in order to ask whether we could indeed pronounce our “it is good” as did the Creator when looking upon the work of creation. The Sabbath is, as Brueggemann has said, “the ground of a sweeping humanism” since it exists for the well-being of humankind and, indeed, for all of creation [Mk 2:27] (1982: 36).
1.The weekly Torah reading (Heb. parsha or portion) in the synagogueSabbath service is followed by a passage from the prophets referred to as ahaftara which means end or conclusion. Actually the passage as it appearsin Luke does not resemble any known synagogue scroll but is more likelyan artistic blend of Isa 61:1-2 and 58:6.
2.The other five include: an exorcism (4:31-37), the plucking of grain (6:1-5),the man with a withered hand (6:6-11), the bent woman (13:10-17), and theman with dropsy or edema (14:1-6).
3.Chancellor Schorsch makes the following comment in his commentary onLev 25:1-26:2 (Be-har): “The DNA of Judaism is the number seven.Imprinted deep in the creation story of the Torah, it pervades almost everyfacet of biblical practice and many of its narratives.” “Be-har 5760”Weekly Torah Commentary by Ismar Schorsch, Chancellor of the JewishTheological Seminary in New York City, JTSA Distance LearningProject<firstname.lastname@example.org>(May 20,2000).
4.See Levine 1989: 171. “[B]y using the verb [make holy] in connection withthe Jubilee, a parallelism between the two occasions is created” (ibid.).
5.The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux,1951).
6.The mandate to build the Tabernacle in Exodus 25-31, for example, and itssubsequent construction recorded in Exodus 35-40.
8.It is interesting to note that Luke has omitted the Markan Jesus’ radicalsaying about the Sabbath being for humankind and not humankind for theSabbath (2:27).
9.Heschel 1992: 16. “A case of risk of loss of life supercedes theSabbath (law)”Mishnah Yoma 8:6. The Qumran community wasconsiderably more strict, however, as is reflected in the followingregulation: “No man shall assist a beast to give birth on the Sabbath day.And if it should fall into a cistern or pit, he shall not lift it out on theSabbath” (Damascus Document 11:13-14).
10.Attention was drawn to this tendency to pair stories about women withstories about men, see Parvey 1974: 139-46. See also D’Angelo 1980: 441-461. D’Angelo noted (p. 443, n.9) that Parvey had pointed out that thepairing technique was first noted by Joachim Jeremias in The Parables ofJesus (New York: Scribner, 1963).
11.Rev 1:10 is the only reference to “the Lord’s day” in the New Testament.Most commentators assume the reference is to Sunday. See, for example,Rowland 1998: 503-717 who also notes that “the adjective “belonging to theLord’ (kyriakos) is found elsewhere in the NT only in 1 Cor 11:20,referring to the Lord’s supper (566).
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