The common life of a community is in jeopardy when people turn against each other, burden each other unnecessarily, blame each other unjustly, and speak with malice. “Remove the yoke from among you,” says the prophet Isaiah, “the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil” (Is. 58:9).
Instead, the prophet promotes a vision of justice and equity, demonstrated principally in concern for those who are most vulnerable. “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday” (Is. 58:10).
A series of rich images follow. “The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt” (Is. 58:11-12). These promises are contingent; they hang upon a social commitment to the wellbeing of the weak and desperate.
A community is no less at risk if all times and occasions are given to “going your own way, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs” (Is. 58:13). In this situation, everyone is simply the object of everyone else’s manipulation for personal advantage or gain. Notwithstanding the legitimate need for a livelihood, the setting aside of “self-interest” for a time helps to strengthen families and communities, allowing a space for mutual engagement in common life and shared interests.
We need rest, and joy, and communal delight. In a word, we need the Sabbath. “If you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on holy days; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy days of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways … then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make your ride upon the heights of the earth” (Is. 58:13-14).
The prophet calls for intervention on behalf of the hungry and the afflicted, and he calls for a holy day of rest. While sacred rest precludes “pursuing one’s interests,” does it prohibit action on behalf of the hungry and the afflicted? Is there a time when desperate human need may or should be ignored in the name of religious observance?
The point has been argued incessantly, and, generally, exceptions have been allowed, and not only in reference to human need. Jesus asks this probing question, “Does not each one of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water” (Lk 13:16)? If the basic needs of domestic animals may be met on the Sabbath, then the affliction of a “daughter of Abraham” may be healed whenever and wherever the Great Physician appears.
“Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. … When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment” (Lk 13:10-12). Using the same word referring to the release of an ox or donkey, the story suggest that the woman is “unbound/untied/unfastened.” So released, she stands erect to behold source of her healing. This miracle story is a wound if it is only one healing; that is, a wound to those who are not released in such a sudden and dramatic fashion. But, in truth, this is a story about “a bent woman who was bound,” symbolizing our fallen state. In Christ she rises, as we do. She is one among many.
Look It Up: Lk. 13:12
Think About It: You are released this day and every day.