29 August 2010 - Proper 17 * Jeremiah 2:4-13, Hebrews 13: 1-8,15-16, Luke 14: 1, 7-14
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, St. Peter's at Ellicott Mills, MD
It is again, the Sabbath Day. We would do well to note the severe edit in our selection for today: verses 2-6 detail another healing on the Sabbath. This time Jesus throws down the gauntlet challenging the Pharisees, "Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or is it not?" But they were silent.
Then comes his observations, and let's face it, rather severe critique, of their social practices. And we may as well admit, who among us does not try to get the best seat in the house? In the stadium? At the restaurant? Who among us does not invite our closest friends for a meal? Or, those to whom we feel indebted due to their hospitality toward us?
Put in today's terms, who would ever want to invite Jesus to dinner? Or, who would invite Jesus to join us for our Sabbath observance? Beginning in chapter 4 of Luke's gospel we have one Sabbath episode after another in which Jesus takes the initiative to stir things up - beginning with his harsh words in his hometown synagogue (Lk 4:23-30), and now all these healings and radical critique of good table manners and Sabbath observance!
There are at least two things at stake in this enigmatic little episode - one to do with meals or banquets, the second to do with Sabbath, Shabbat, and the essence of the command to "remember the Sabbath."
Nearly half the words of the Ten Commandments (55 of 108) concern remembering the Sabbath. And they stand nearly in the middle as a bridge between the first three concerning our relationship with God, and the final six concerning our relationships with one another. There it is again, Love of God and Love of Neighbor, defined in 108 words delivered by God to Moses and the people of God at Mt. Sinai.
In addition to being a day of rest, set apart from the rest of the week when we are hard at work, Shabbat is to be a holy day set apart to build up the spiritual element within us - a renewal of our spiritual life in God! Today we are hard pressed to even remember that we have a spiritual life in God, let alone devote an entire day to contemplate what that means. It evolved as a day of study, a day to remember where we come from, a day to remember God as the creator of the universe, that all we are and all we have is a gift, a day to separate ourselves from the misery and slavery that for so many centuries were the lot of Israel - a day, once a week when the home of the humblest Jew was flooded with light! Shabbat banishes care and toil, grief and sorrow. On Shabbat, the most despised and rejected of men and women are emancipated from oppression and tribulation and degradation of this world, feeling themselves to be a prince or princess, king or queen, a member of a great, eternal and holy family!
A look inside the Jewish Sabbath reveals not a day of strict and dreary adherence to demanding rules, but rather households filled with Joy, Gratitude, Sunshine, Light and Love. Recalling the Exodus and Passover, recalling the Return from Exile, Sabbath represents a day to Return to God from the worries, claims and demands of the other six days of the week.
So the healings Jesus performs on the Sabbath seem to emulate the very essence of what it means "to remember the Sabbath" - to remember God's desire to liberate and unbind us from all that keeps us enslaved to that which is not of God.
Then there is the meal itself - the Sabbath meal or banquet. Meals eaten at table in the Jewish world of Jesus were not simply times to nourish oneself with vast quantities of food, but rather meals eaten at table are eaten as if the table is the altar in the Temple in Jerusalem. Consider that by the time Luke's gospel was committed to writing, the Temple and its altar were in ashes, and remain so to this day. Consider then just what sitting at table on Shabbat signifies right down to our own day.
The traditional greeting on Shabbat is "Shabbat Shalom!" Shalom means more than just peace. Shalom means whole, complete, full, welfare, justice. It is the essence of our Baptismal promise, "to strive for justice and peace for all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being." BCP 305 We have all seen the bumper sticker, "No Justice, No Peace/Know Justice, Know Peace."
So the greeting, "Shabbat Shalom," suggests that we remember that at very heart of this most central of the Ten Commandments is remembering that God wants and seeks the liberation and release of all those whose lives are bound by misery, slavery, worry, rejection, injustice and indignity.
For our Sabbath observance we gather as a community at a common table. Among other things, the Sacrament of his Body and Blood on this table represent the essence of Shabbat Shalom - a foretaste of that heavenly banquet, a foretaste of life for all persons in God's Kingdom.
Today's story serves up several challenges for Christians in all times and in all places. One is to dissuade Christians from all presumptions of privilege, noting that one day we will all be seated according to our Host's will, not our own. Presumption of privilege - whether based on things like race, class, gender, nationality, native tongue or even religion - not only do not distinguish us, but if we allow them to define us at all will ultimately, says Jesus, disgrace us.
We do not determine who is worthy to sit at God's table. The counterintuitive message in here, of course, tells us that our table ought to be surrounded by strangers - strangers who are poor, crippled, lame, blind, widows, orphans and resident aliens. That is, and the Pharisees are not alone in this whatsoever, "birds of a feather flock together" is not what the Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus has in mind when commanding us to "remember the Sabbath."
Shabbat Shalom - two words we would do well to hold together. Shabbat Shalom - two words that in essence sum up what God means when commanding us that to Love God and Love Neighbor means to participate in God's reign today, here and now. Who we invite to sit at God's table defines who we are and whose we are.
Perhaps inviting Jesus to dinner and to our Sabbath Worship is just what we need to do - on a more regular basis! Shabbat Shalom!