Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, August 21, 2022

YEAR C 2022 pentecost 11

Pentecost 11, 2022
Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

This is one of my favorite Jesus stories of all time.  It’s so simple and to the point, but there is so much subtle stuff going on at the same time.  Your spoiler alert is: Jesus cares about people.  Surprise!  Let’s jump in . . .

In this reading from Luke, we have a pretty straightforward healing story.  There’s this woman who has been sick for 18 years.  Jesus heals her on the Sabbath.  The local religious leaders accuse him of breaking God’s law by working on the Sabbath.  Jesus notes their hypocrisy; they are chagrined; everyone praises God.  The end.  Like I said, pretty straight forward.

But to begin with, we need to wrap our minds around a different cultural context.  In Jesus’ time, everyone believed there was a connection between the physical, and the moral and spiritual.  We get this from Plato if not even earlier: The beautiful and the good are the same.  This kind of thinking says, things are twisted and broken in appearance because they are twisted and broken inside.  No one is just born blind in that culture, which is why the disciples in John’s Gospel ask Jesus, “Whose sin caused this man to be born blind--his own or his parents’ sin?”  A person’s physical appearance was considered the manifestation of their inward state.  We like to pretend we are beyond that, but . . . are we?

Anyway, the people in Jesus’ day were much more convinced of this connection between the outside and the inside, and it was simply part of the society, the way things work.    Beautiful meant good; ugly meant bad.  

But on top of that outward appearance thing, there’s a huge difference between men and women in that culture.  To cut to the chase: Men were considered valuable and in charge; women were not.

A diseased woman, a broken and twisted female.  She has no status, since she’s a woman.  And they would say she must be spiritually and morally deformed inside, given her outward appearance.  This woman doesn’t even deserve to be noticed, let alone healed.  And on the Sabbath?!?  That is just absurd!

But let’s review what we know about the Sabbath for a moment.  Well, we probably don’t know much at all, other than its Biblical origins and that it was—and is—very important to the Jewish people.  You and I have the general sense that it is a day of rest, and that the definition of not resting (or of working) grew over the years into a tangle of restrictions on activities.  People in Jesus’ day could be stoned to death for violating the Sabbath.  It was no small charge to be accused of working on the Sabbath.

And listen again to the objection of the leader of the synagogue:  “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."  You notice his spoken complaint is only about violating the Sabbath; he does not take issue with Jesus’ healing a woman, at least outwardly, which is . . . interesting.  So you might think he’s taking kind of a middle stance, having elevated her to the level of at least worthy of healing, but not worthy of being healed on the Sabbath.  You know, take a step back here, Jesus.  What’s the rush?  18 years plus one day?  You’ve got all next week to heal her.  The rules of God should not be broken lightly, right?

But do you remember what her actual ailment was?  The symptom was that she was bent over, yes.  But as Jesus declares, Satan has bound her for 18 years.  Satan is what prevents her from standing upright.   And that means—if we follow it through—according to the leader of the synagogue, following the Law of God is more important than being freed from Satan.  Or, more frighteningly, God cares more about rules than people.  The leader of the synagogue seems to hold that view, right?  The Law is what matters here.  Let her remain in bondage, since the rules are more important than people.

Well thank God for Jesus!  Thank God that Jesus shows up to say it over and over again:  The Sabbath was made for people, not the other way around.  Given her (let me emphasize it) bent-over stature, this woman would be a complete outcast for many reasons.  And Jesus heals, frees, and restores her to community ON THE SABBATH.  What could possibly be more fitting?  What better day than the Sabbath to declare God’s forgiveness and restoration?  It would seem wrong to wait, just for the poetic justice of the timing.  Woman, you are set free from your ailment on the Sabbath.  Yes!  Let’s go to brunch!

But then here’s the really interesting part of the whole story.  Jesus raises the obvious point of asking if they wouldn’t do a little work to give their ox or donkey water on the Sabbath.  And Jesus could have left it at that.  But, being Jesus, he has to go all the way: “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?"

Okay, first of all, women were not called “Daughters of Abraham.”  Ever.  Not until Jesus calls her that in this reading.  You’ve heard the phrase “Sons of Abraham” many times.  But the only other reference to a woman being a Daughter of Abraham is hidden in a book of Maccabees—which is exactly why you and I have never seen this before.  However, Jesus’ listeners would have got the reference.  I won’t go into the whole story here, but in Maccabees, a woman of extreme courage brings honor to Abraham through steadfast endurance and suffering.  And so, connecting the woman in today’s Gospel with the Jewish mother in Maccabees is what brings shame on Jesus’ audience.

NOW they get the idea.  Or are getting the idea.  Because here’s the deeper reference being made in this statement.  Jesus doesn’t say, ought not this woman be freed from Satan to BECOME a daughter of Abraham.  Jesus is not saying, “Once I do my magic hands thing and tell her to stand up, THEN she will be a daughter of Abraham.”  He says “being a daughter of Abraham.”  Present tense.  She does not become a daughter of Abraham because Jesus heals her.  She IS a daughter of Abraham.  And that’s why both literally and metaphorically she should not be bent over: she should be standing up, straight and tall.  Her true status is hidden by the binding, by the judgement of society, by the circumstances of her life, and Jesus sets her free to stand up straight, praising God.

And then, as we heard, the opponents of Jesus are put to shame when he says this.  Why?  Well, it’s hard to know, exactly.  But my guess is it’s best just to take this at face value:  They are put to shame because they would not see what seems obvious to an outside observer . . . particularly those of us with 20 hundred hindsight . . . Neither the binding of Satan, nor the opinion of religious society takes away the fact that this woman is a child of God, a daughter of Abraham.  The circumstances of life and birth, the opinions of the religious people judging her do not diminish her value in the eyes of God.  And anyone who says otherwise will be put to shame.

And that is exactly true for you and me as well.  God does not heal you to become a child of God.  You are a child of God, whether you are bent over by society’s lies and traditions, or are already standing up straight.  Coming to this altar this morning does not make you a child of God . . . But because you are, you are welcome here.  Whatever binds you, whatever holds you down, whatever our society says makes you unworthy, Jesus sees past all of that.  Jesus tells you to stand up straight, and welcomes you into the community.  And so on this, our sabbath day, it is especially appropriate to say:  Rise up!  You are set free from everything that binds you, because you are a daughter of Abraham; you are a beloved child of God, and anyone who says otherwise will be put to shame.


No comments:

Post a Comment