Book review: A Day for Healing
In this slender text, seasoned scholar and beloved pastor John C. Brunt aims to show not only how Jesus’ practice of the Sabbath was situated within the Jewish context of His time but also how He offered a significant corrective. To accomplish this, Brunt focuses on Jesus’ Sabbath miracles as a window into what the Sabbath is ultimately about—a day he claims to be “a day for healing.”
Originally released in 1981, A Day for Healing is a unique Seventh-day Adventist publication. According to Brunt, there was a serious lack of published material on the positive significance of Jesus’ Sabbath miracles. So instead of looking for ways to defend the validity of the Sabbath commandment based on Jesus’ practice, Brunt sought to reveal something about God’s character and its relevance for how we ought to celebrate the Sabbath today. In this slightly revised second edition, Brunt continues to place Jesus’ miracles in the foreground but adds one additional chapter, bringing the total to seven.
Before considering the five Sabbath miracles in chapter four, the author offers two background chapters. Chapter two includes a discussion on how the Sabbath was observed in Jesus’ day, primarily through the lens of Jesus’ harshest critics: the Pharisees. According to Brunt, the “pharisaic system of Sabbath observance reveals the result of their legalistic attempt to build a fence around the law as an aid in perfect obedience” (20). Chapter three considers the significance of Jesus’ healing ministry as a type of sign pointing to “Jesus’ power to bring total spiritual healing” (24). In the remaining four chapters, Brunt examines each Sabbath miracle in turn and then discusses theological, ethical, and pragmatic implications for Sabbath observers today.
Of all the ways the author probes Jesus’ relationship to the Sabbath, the question posed at the beginning of the fifth chapter is perhaps the most penetrating. Assuming Jesus knew of the trouble that would result from heal- ing on the Sabbath, why did He “insist on performing these controversial miracles” (56)? Brunt’s response can be placed in two categories. By purpose- fully healing on the Sabbath, Jesus sought to show, first, what the Sabbath is not and, second, what the Sabbath is. As to the former, he argues how Jesus’ Sabbath miracles illustrate “that the Sabbath is not a day for legalistic rules and rituals” (60). Instead, based on Jesus’ example of intentionally looking for people to heal on the seventh day, the Sabbath is, therefore, a day for healing. “Jesus, by word and action, demonstrates that salvation lies at the very core of the Sabbath” (67).
Although Brunt states he is writing for the general Sabbath keeper, he seems to have a certain Seventh-day Adventist practitioner in mind. There is an underlying bias in which Sabbath “rules” are prohibitive for authentic Sabbath practice, not an infrequent critique of the Sabbath. Focusing on rules may interfere with healing on the Sabbath, but these two are not mutually exclusive. Another unintended implication is the potential of misrepresenting New Testament pharisaical Judaism as representative of the sum total of Judaism then and now.
To be fair, Brunt offers a word of caution about becoming careless with respect to preserving the “purpose and sanctity of the Sabbath” (72). Moreover, when John references “the Jews” in his Gospel, Brunt offers this caveat: “he is not referring to all Jews” (48). Nevertheless, these are passing comments on the way to emphasizing how “the Sabbath brings life only when the focus is on Jesus and on His healing and saving activity, rather than on rules” (74). I know quite a number of religious Jews and rabbis who would beg to differ. In a time when many are returning to the Jewish roots of Christianity, we may wish to avoid distancing ourselves from God’s original source for Sabbath preservation—the Jews. After all, Jesus was Jewish.
These critiques notwithstanding, A Day for Healing is an especially important book because the Sabbath story is not exclusive to Judaism. Christianity adds an additional number of chapters, and, for this reason, Jesus’ Sabbath miracles deserve attention. In a world that is in desperate need of what the Sabbath has to offer, Brunt provides important material for reflection and helpful advice for practice. —Erik C. Carter, DMin, PhD, is chair of Relational Studies and assistant professor in the School of Religion, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, California, United States.
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