“Last minute lectionary” is a series of short thoughts on the week’s narrative/Gospel lectionary reading.
Luke 13:10-17 (NIV)
Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath
10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”
15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”
17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
I’m about halfway through a Kairos course titled “God, the Church and the World.” In this week’s lesson the study material draws an interesting line between the early disciples’ reluctance to spread the Gospel beyond their own people, and the modern day church’s struggle with the same thing. In our preaching it would be easy to restrict our exegesis to the issues of the day: the realities of a class system in first century Judea, the fact that illness was considered a result of sinfulness, the low position of women in that culture and so on. But we would be remiss if we didn’t draw a parallel between the synagogue leader’s attitude and our attitudes today.
There are three main points we can discuss here. In the first place, how accepting are we, as God’s church, of people crippled by sin? Do we have a different attitude towards different types of sin? Are we more lenient with “less visible” types of sin – like pride, arrogance and hatred – than we are with types of sin that are easier to see – like how we are always quick to judge gay people? In this week’s reading, Jesus wasn’t just healing the crippled woman – he was also healing the crippled, legalistic hearts who would have stood in her way. Do we allow him to heal us in this way?
Interestingly, Jesus here identified the crippled woman as a “daughter of Abraham.” He was reminding the Jews, not very subtly, that she was one of them. Though she was crippled with illness, she was no less an heir than they were. Hooboy! They wouldn’t have liked that comparison. But how do we fare in similar comparisons? If someone entirely unlike us walked into our church – someone visibly “other” – would we accept them as fellow heirs in Christ? (Romans 8:14-17) Or would we think that we are better than they are?
In the second place, how open are we to holy disruption – having our hearts, worship times, comfort zones, congregations and elders challenged by the working of the Holy Spirit? Do we, too, try to urge people to “toe the line” to such an extent that we calcify into “whitewashed tombs” that look good – orderly, slick, presentable – on the outside while our insides are dead, unclean and full of bones (Matthew 23:27) – full of people with deep, unmet spiritual needs?
Lastly, do we free or do we encumber? When Jesus asked whether people didn’t water their animals on the Sabbath, he was also asking why they wouldn’t allow him to “water” this woman so thirstily in need of God and his healing. Above all else, Jesus’ touch is restorative. When we – our pulpits, ministries, fellowship, stewardship boards, blogs, Bible studies – touch the lives of people, does it free them – leading them to Jesus’ living water – or does it encumber them with shame, fear, rejection, cliques, or legalism?
This week’s narrative lectionary reading echoes two earlier Sabbaths back in Luke 6. In the first instance, religious leaders criticised Jesus for allowing his disciples to pluck heads of grain. Jesus response to that was, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Luke 6:5). In the second instance, Jesus healed a man with a shrivelled hand. It also precedes another Sabbath healing in Luke 14:1-6. Boy, that’s a lot of Sabbath healings, huh? Could this mean something? (Gee, you think?!)
Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath; but more than that, he is Lord. This week’s reading forces us to ask whether we merely proclaim him Lord, or whether we live like he is our Lord. And the surest way to see which side of the equation we as Christians and as churches fall on is to examine how we treat other people.
Many blessings for your sermons,