August 21, 2022 Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost The text is Luke 13:10-17.
10 Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Hey Jesus, Son of God or not, you can’t heal people on the Sabbath day!” The Scriptures specifically state that no “work” is to be done on the Sabbath, right? Well, maybe, but it all depends on how “work” is defined, and also which branch of Judaism a particular synagogue leader ascribes to. You see, even in Jesus’ time there was disagreement over what could and could not be performed on the Sabbath. When Sabbath rules appear in the Hebrew Bible, “work” is undefined. In the Mishnah, a later Jewish writing, there are thirty-nine kinds of “work” that are forbidden on the Sabbath.
These include planting seed, baking bread, writing a letter, and building something. Note that this list of forbidden work does not include physical healing. Some temple leaders of the time argued that saving a life was permitted on the Sabbath, but rabbis didn’t agree about whether or not healings of non-life-threatening conditions should be performed on the Sabbath. Again, this is likely because the entire topic of Sabbath healing doesn’t appear in the Jewish Law at all.
The concept of a Sabbath day of rest is first noted at the very beginning of the Bible in Genesis, where we read that God created for six days and rested on the seventh. Later in Exodus, Moses descends Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, one of which you will recall instructs that we are “to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy”. Then in Leviticus, the Lord instructs Moses to tell the Jewish people that the Sabbath is to be a day of rest, and on that day no work is to be done. Again though, no specifics are given as to what actually constitutes “work”. Well, Jesus has pretty strong feelings as to what is appropriate to do and what is not on the Sabbath, and he lets the leader of the synagogue know this in no uncertain terms. It’s interesting to note that the synagogue leader reprimands not Jesus for his miraculous healing, but the suffering woman herself, for coming to the temple on the Sabbath, hoping to be healed.
The Sabbath, Shabbat in Hebrew is meant to be a day of rest when time is to be set aside to glorify God. It’s interesting that Shabbat simply means “to stop”, and this is thought to refer to the stopping of one’s labors, taking time to rest and reflect on God’s blessings. It seems that the extensive restrictions on Sabbath activities were more of a rabbinical construct and that this was the result of an extremely narrow interpretation of the scriptural directive. No “work” came to mean nearly nothing was permitted to be done on the Sabbath. And, before we judge the religious leaders of Jesus’ time too harshly, let’s not forget that even today there are great divisions within Christian churches, and even within the different Lutheran denominations. Female pastors; no female pastors. LGBTQ clergy; no LGBTQ clergy.
Everyone is welcome to receive Communion; the Eucharist is restricted to those who are members of the particular denomination. The Bible is literal and inerrant; scripture is open to some interpretation. Seems that even today there is little agreement regarding what the bible teaches us.
Back to Jesus’ reprimand of the synagogue leader; the job of the Pharisees and other interpreters of Jewish Law was to interpret what they felt that God intended Scripture to specifically mean, especially when it came to its impact on the day-to-day lives of the people. What they, and especially the synagogue leader this morning didn’t expect, was that there was no one on earth more suited for this task than Jesus. Unknown to them Jesus walked among us as God-in-flesh, and his determination of the meaning of the Word of God was the only one that truly mattered. And, Jesus knows that it is God’s will that all people be blessed with abundant life. Thus, Jesus asks the temple priest, “ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day? Phrased another way, “shouldn’t everything be done to bring healing to those in need, no matter the day of the week?” “Doesn’t everyone deserve the abundant life that is God’s will for all?” “And, by the way you hypocrite, who are you to deny anyone the ability to live their life to the fullest?”
It’s clear that this is what God desires for all his people, and Jesus wasn’t going to be constrained in his ministry simply because some had determined that a narrow, restrictive view of the Law should prohibit people being blessed with life abundant. So, how do we incorporate this way of looking at God’s will into how we practice our faith, live our daily lives, and determine whether or not someone or some thing is or isn’t worthy of this abundance? Mostly, it’s a matter of recognizing that it isn’t our job to make these determinations at all; God wills abundant life for everyone. We are called to a faith that is welcoming and inclusive to all people, we are commanded to acknowledge that God’s will is at the center of all we do, and it’s not up to us to decide who or what is to be called worthy; God has already done that. And, through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, the answer is, …everyone!
The most effective way for us to help bring about God’s will for abundant life for the world is to simply…get out of the way. A colleague of mine is fond of the saying, “let go and let God”; I think we would all be well served to adopt this as the motto for how we “do church”. All too often, as mentioned earlier, otherwise faithful Christians get caught up in their own view of what the church should adopt as its rules and regulations. Female pastors or not; gay and lesbian clergy or not; open table Communion or not; literal bible or not. All these divisions serve only to hinder the coming of the kingdom; we need to “let go and let God”.
People are turning away from the church in numbers that haven’t been seen before. Many are dismayed when they read about the injustices that the wider church has brought against those who were considered not worthy by the Christians who profess to love everyone. More than a few feel that the church is too caught up in its rites and ceremonies and that it has forgotten its purpose; that is, being the hands and feet of Christ. Some are of the opinion that a good number of Christians leave their faith at the altar and neglect to practice it once they leave the doors of the church behind. They view modern-day religion through the lens of the synagogue leader, more concerned with his strict interpretation of the Law than the need to heal a broken, suffering woman. This, my friends is where we come in; we need to let go of those rules and regulations that hinder the flourishing of the Gospel. We need to let go and let God do what it is that God wills for the entire world. We must not allow ourselves to be focused on anything that doesn’t proclaim the Good News; we can’t be among the ones who would exclude others from God’s grace and mercy; we have failed if any who seek us out do not feel welcome and included in out midst. We have to be sure we get out of the way!
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy God, help us to recognize that it is your will that the well-being of your children is more important than any rules put in place by humans. And that we are each called to serve those in need when we encounter them, no matter when or where. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who gives us permission to break the rules when necessary to relieve the suffering of another. Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good.