The captivity of illness is far from restful. Illness has the capacity to trap people within their own bodies-to make the ailing feel just as stuck as those who are left feeling helpless to ease their pain. At many times it can feel like bondage, like slavery. The role of the suffering servant is to release Israel from slavery to their illnesses, just as God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt. Messiah Yeshua came to renew the covenant between God and God’s people. Messiah came to bring about a second redemption; a redemption not primarily from human oppression, but from illness and death itself. His healing power was meant to be a sign to the people that redemption was drawing near. His healing presence was destined to shape the way Israel would relate to her Torah. Yeshua reveals this to many of Am Yisrael in Yochanan 7:
“If a man receives circumcision on Shabbat
In order not to break the law of Moshe,
Are you angry with me for making
A man’s whole body healthy on Shabbat?
Do not judge by appearance
But with the judgment of justice.”
(Yohanan 7:23-24, Barnstone)
Shabbat is an eternal covenant between Israel and God, but so is the b’rit milah. Because of this, circumcisions can be performed, according to halakha, on Shabbat. That action which marks the sealing of God’s covenant can be performed on the holiest of days. When the man Yeshua had healed was seen carrying his bed on Shabbat it could have appeared to be a breaking of halakha. However, this appearance does not take into account what it meant for this man to have carried his bed. He had just been healed from an impairment that enslaved him for most of his life. What Yeshua did was mark this man for reception of a renewed b’rit. Carrying is forbidden, but carrying as a sign of renewed life is another covenant sign with equal value as that of b’rit milah and Shabbat. For those who may have found this dissonant with the meaning of Shabbat, Yeshua concludes with reference to one of the other aspects of the mitzvah of Shabbat. Shabbat includes the release of all servants from their labors. Shabbat is also about releasing the bound; it is a day of Justice for those with heavy burdens. This is precisely what Yeshua has come to enact. It is also what he calls all of us to participate in.
The characteristics of Yeshua’s piety on Shabbat have implications that touch our lives on all days. Yeshua reminds us to walk on a path of observance that is difficult for most. This is not a path where we “sometimes observe and other times break out of observance,” but rather that in the way we observe we challenge the safety of predictable religious life. This is a walk characterized by submission to norms with expectation of new revelation; a life of holiness made manifest in the holding of law and the breaking of chains.