Proper 16, Year C ‘16
Luke 13: 10-17
21 August 2016
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.” Amen (Ps 19:14)
It’s interesting, I think, to note that the Gospel lesson for today is, within the Gospel According to Luke, the last reference to Jesus teaching in a synagogue. The story Jesus’ passion, has begun to cast its shadow. At this point in the narrative we are coming into a new section of the story about Jesus and why he was so very important. There is an increase in tension and just a hint of foreboding. I wonder if there was something, a word, a phase, a sentence that stood out for you in today’s Gospel lesson? Now certainly today’s lesson, a story unique to Luke, holds a controversy. We do well to keep in mind here that, within the culture of Luke’s time, to be in the synagogue on the Sabbath is to be at the very heart of late first century Judaism in its most prevalent and strongest form. How interesting that, within this gospel, when Jesus, that good Jewish rabbi, comes into the equation there is controversy. His actions are unexpected, they cross boundaries of what is held to be good and right and proper even pleasing to God. And so, what stood out for me in this brief recounting of a moment in Jesus’ ministry, was this: “When he laid hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God”. But wait. Jesus had just healed that woman on the Sabbath. Which is to say that Jesus acted in a way that stood in absolute contradiction to what good religious people of that day held to be good and proper. I can’t stress that enough. And for what? Look at the person Jesus healed through the eyes of that time. First remember that she was a woman. It was often enough the case that, in that culture at that time, cattle were held to be of more value than women. On top of that she was infirm, she was not physically perfect, she was, in the words of the time, “unclean”. You notice, I am sure , that Jesus interprets the woman’s suffering in terms of Satan’s binding her. Why would Jesus touch such a one when to lay his hands on her would leave him unclean and unable to engage in worship, as well? We, you and I, people of our time and culture, look and we see a female human being who has been seriously suffering for a very long time, eighteen years, and we see Jesus, whom we know to be compassionate. Of course, we think, he of all people, would reach out to heal her. And yes, we are right to see that woman, that situation, through the lens of Jesus, to see with God’s eyes so to speak. But it is also important to remember how controversial, how absolutely radical Jesus’ actions were at the time. We understand that in that moment Jesus reached out to apply God’s power to a human life in ways that break apart the very real forces of evil. But listen again to the ruler of the synagogue. He was beyond merely indignant, he was in high dungeon. And he makes his case. God had given the people six days to work. Then God gave the people one day on which to worship. One day to relate to God, six days to do God’s work. Now certainly freedom from Satan’s bondage was a great thing, but it should only be accomplished on certain days of the week. Devotion to God meant, in some sense, recognizing that time that was set aside to not do God’s work. That was the religious understanding of the time. That was the religious status quo. That was what everyone knew to be the proper way to act, to worship, to live a religious life, a Godly life. What of Jesus? Listen again to his closing words. “…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?” Notice. She is a “daughter of Abraham”. She is not just a beast of burden or a piece of property. She is valuable in her humanity. And then Jesus’ words pronounce judgment on those who, however genuinely religious, are more intent on following the letter of the law than on recognizing God’s will and looking for every possible opportunity to live into that will. In short looking for opportunities to both learn and do God’s will recognizing that in God’s view people take precedence over blindly following the “rules”. Let’s look again at that woman, that “daughter of Abraham”. What is her part in all of this? After all her response is what really stood out in my mind initially. Her response to being healed shows us what it looks like to experience grace. She praised God. Yes, it was Jesus’ hands that were laid on her, the power of healing apparently came from the man Jesus. But that woman saw beyond Jesus. She recognized that the real source of her liberation was the power of God and that the real source of freedom from the oppression of evil was the work of God and God alone. In this instance God worked through Jesus. But never forget, God continues to work in the word today through the likes of you and I who are called to be agents of grace today. What are we to make of it all? An old meditation in Forward Day by Day comes to mind. It was offered by Jason Leo who is the rector of Calvary Church in Cleveland Ohio. His text was a portion of the Gospel According to Mark. Jesus is asked what is the greatest commandment. He replies: “The first is ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one;
you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
There is no other commandment greater than these.” This is Jesus’ summary of the law and we call it “the great commandment.” Rev. Leo tells the story of a time right before he was confirmed. His confirmation teacher asked why he thought that commandment was important.
Rev. Leo says he was unsure of himself but responded with something like if he were to obey the commandment he would, after his death, be allowed into God’s kingdom. Now here’s the best part of the meditation. Rev. Leo reports that his confirmation teacher smiled and replied “Close, but a little off.” She then went on to explain that when Jesus gave that summary of the law his intent was that we should come to live into God’s kingdom right now. She said: “live the commandment and live in the kingdom.” Here’s the thing. Jesus opens a door for us. He opens the door into God’s Kingdom. Jesus invites us into that Kingdom. He shows us how to live in that Kingdom, not just later but right now. That caused serious commotion back in his day, it was an entirely radical notion. In many ways it still is and does. The woman in our Gospel story stepped through that door. Through Jesus she experienced the grace of God’s healing power. She became what we might call a gracist and she began to praise God. I borrowed that term, “gracist” from an article I read a while back. A “gracist is someone who extends hospitality, who invites others, who acknowledges the full humanity of all people. A graceist is the very polar opposite of a racist or a sexist, or whatever other kind of “ist” you can imagine. Did you notice at the very end of the Gospel reading we hear that the crowd in the synagogue that day was rejoicing at all the wonderful things Jesus was doing? They too had become graceists. That woman and that crowd began that very day to live in God’s kingdom and to open the door for others. And so Jesus also invites us to step through the door into God’s Kingdom, praising God and doing Gods work always and everywhere. We too are called to live as “gracists” inviting others to experience the healing power of God just as we have. Amen.