August 25, 2019

Set straight by Jesus

Passage: Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Luke 13:10-17

In today’s gospel lesson from Luke we have a whole crowd of people…in the midst of Jesus’ presence…being set straight by Jesus. First Jesus set straight a nameless woman when he heals her from a condition that had crippled her for 18 years. We are told that for 18 years the woman had been bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. Jesus sees her…he heals her…and sets her free from her ailment. And then Jesus set straight the leader of the synagogue who became indignant because Jesus had healed the woman on the sabbath…and not just the leader, but all the others in authority and everyone who was in the crowd that day who thought the same. All were set straight by Jesus.

All were set straight by Jesus…but it’s not so much the healing that is the focus of the story…but rather its effects. How the healing changed the woman and how it didn’t change those who were
against the healing taking place on the sabbath.

The story itself is straightforward enough. As was Jesus’ custom, he gathered on the Sabbath with the community in the town in which he was visiting. As a rabbi he was invited to teach and interpret the Scriptures. The woman in the story also gathered with the community on the Sabbath in the synagogue. And the leader of the synagogue – along with other teachers – was there to listen, ask questions, read and interpret Scripture.

As the story unfolds, Jesus sees the woman and calls her over. In the midst of his teaching, he stops and calls her over. We don’t know very much about the woman. We don’t know her name or her age. We don’t know if she is married, a mother, or a widow. What we do know is that she has a spirit that has crippled her for eighteen years. She is bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. How surprised she must have been when Jesus called her. She didn’t request healing… in fact she didn’t even request to meet Jesus. More likely, she was in the back of crowd of people. Her walk was slow, and she kept getting in people’s way. She preferred to be as far away as she could be from people’s stares. She knew that people wondered what it was that she must have done to deserve such a horrible ailment. And as the years went by, she herself wondered if perhaps she truly deserved her condition. She deserved to be in the back of the crowd…unseen as much as possible.

But this day was different. This day Jesus saw the woman. He saw her suffering… her burden…
he saw her. And he called her forward. Jesus took the initiative. She listened and bravely went forward. And then she heard the most wonderful words. Jesus said to her: “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” He then laid his hands on her…and immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

What a wonderful story of healing and celebration! The woman was set straight by Jesus. Think of the joy that must have flooded her soul. Think of the smile that must have been on her face. She was one happy woman. She began praising God, who she knew to be the one who had, after
eighteen long years, healed her. She praised God like she had never praised God before. Truly a cause for celebration!
But wait. Not everyone shared that sentiment, and the celebrating was quickly curtailed by harsh words spoken by the synagogue leader. What a downer. With great indignation in his voice he says 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.” For a moment I expect there was stunned silence.
And then Jesus broke the silence. It was the leader of synagogue’s turn to be set straight by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t mince his words. He says to the leader of the synagogue, and the other teachers in the synagogue: “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?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?”

With a few well-chosen words Jesus showed just how ridiculous and misplaced their objections were. Knowing that the teachers of the law understood every word of the law, Jesus used the language to point out a new understanding. In an article on the gospel text that I read this past week on the website Ministry Matters, writer Ryan Wilson points out that: “Jesus plays on the Greek words for ‘bound’ and ‘loose’. If the law permitted the loosing of a bound animal for watering on the Sabbath, should it not be permitted for this woman – this daughter of Abraham – who has been bound for eighteen years? Can she not be loosed from Satan’s bond? God delivered the Israelites, who had been bound in Egypt as slaves, so isn’t the unbinding of this woman also a good thing?”

Well, that new understanding changed the tone of the gathering. The mood quickly turned back to celebration. With Jesus’ clear words about being set free, the celebration resumed! Luke ends the story by stating that all of Jesus’ opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd rejoiced
at all the wonderful things he was doing.

Any why shouldn’t everyone rejoice? Sure, the woman could have waited another day to be healed. Her healing wasn’t necessary for her survival. She surely would have survived another day. But she had already been in this state for eighteen years. Why wait another day? What better way to honour God in his house of worship than by doing his work and healing this woman who had come to be with her God. She hadn’t asked to be healed. All she had wanted was to be in God’s house on this Sabbath day. She thought she was no one special, but Jesus saw within her and was able to see a woman with worth. A daughter of Abraham…a child of God…a loved child of God. Someone who shouldn’t have to wait another moment longer to be free.
Jesus knew what the Sabbath was all about and he knew that it would be in accordance with God’s will that she be healed. The regulations against work on the Sabbath were originally intended to bring people close to God. They were not meant to restrict God’s activity in the world. The healing of the woman was a gift from God…and concern over her suffering took precedent over the fact that it was the sabbath day. God’s will is always focused on people’s well-being.

The Ministry Matters article that I referenced earlier, written by Ryan Wilson, is entitled “Compassion always trumps law!” A pointed title. In his article Wilson writes the following: “Jesus isn’t abolishing the Law of Moses, but helping the people in the synagogue have a better understanding of how to apply the law. The laws were given to help enhance life, not stifle it. Compassion will be the rule for all who follow Jesus. Jesus performs an act of service for this woman that was overdue for eighteen years. The announcement of the good news is an invitation to celebrate.”
We are good news people – are we not? The gospel message that we proclaim is good news – is
it not? God’s chief concern is always love and care for people and for creation. Commandments,
rules, guidelines, traditions, laws do not come before love. We don’t abandon them, but we remember where the priority must lie. If we forget that then we too become bent over, unable to see as well as when we are standing up straight.

There are many kinds of things that can keep us bent over. If we forget the glory of God and the wonder of a love that can heal with a touch and a word – even on the Sabbath – then we too have forgotten where the priority must lie. Helping someone in need and obeying God are not
alternatives – they are not exclusive to each other, but rather very much go hand in hand. Jesus spent much of his ministry in a struggle to portray a different way of imagining God which demonstrated God’s love and care – God’s compassion. God’s love, care and compassion is so great that he gave us his son Jesus to show us the way to live, to love and to be.
There was once a woman in a community who was well-known for her simple faith and great calm in the midst of life’s many trials. There was another woman in this same community who, having heard of this woman of faith, wanted to meet her and find out the secret of her calm, happy life. As she met her, she said: “So you are the woman with the great faith I’ve heard so much about.” “No,” came the reply. “I am not the woman with the great faith, but I am the woman with faith in a great God.”

The woman that was healed by Jesus had faith in a great God. Jesus saw that faith even when she was bent over. Earlier we sang the hymn “Follow me the Master said”. In the gospel story, Jesus doesn’t explicitly use those words…but interestingly enough, when Jesus saw the woman, Luke records that he called her over. An innocent enough phrase perhaps, but in the original Greek the verb is the same as that used for the call of the disciples. Jesus set the woman free from her crippling burden. She was set straight by Jesus to truly live. And I expect that the healing she experienced that day was just the beginning of her journey with Jesus. She heeded God’s
call…was healed…set straight by Jesus…and in response, she followed Jesus.

We have heard the call as well. May each of us this day and each day heed the call. May we seek God’s healing – God’s gift of healing – of being set straight by Jesus to live a life of love, following God’s greatest command…to love God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind…and to love our neighbor as our self. May it be so on this Sabbath day and every day. Amen.