August 21, 2016
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
She came into the synagogue, right in to where the men sit and speak from the Torah and the Prophets, right up to the Moses seat, where Jesus was teaching.
She was bent over, nearly double. Her body mirrored her spirit. Her physical form mirrored her interior. It had been crippled for eighteen years. For some, eighteen years was a full lifetime. For her, it felt like a lifetime of pain, a lifetime of never getting a good breath, a lifetime of never getting comfortable, whether in a chair, or walking, or lying in bed.
And she came up to Jesus. No preliminaries. No introductions. No man accompanying her to see this teacher she did not know.
But Jesus did not miss a beat. He went from explaining what the Kingdom of God is like to calling her over the moment he saw her.
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
And he put his hands on her, a woman he did not know, a woman unrelated to him.
And she stood up straight. For the first time in eighteen years, she stood up straight. Everyone who knew her had forgotten how tall she really was. They had grown so used to seeing her bent over.
And she breathed in a full breath. Into her lungs she breathed in a breath of life. For the first time in eighteen years, she took a full breath.
And she praised God. For the first time in eighteen years, she lifted her arms above her head and she praised God for being set free, for being loosed, for standing up, for weights lifted, spirit made whole, life redeemed from pain.
But. (Here the background music of our scene takes on a minor key, building slowly and threateningly.)
But. The leader of the synagogue, the moderator of the congregation, the chair of the board, the pastor, stands up and protests, rebuking the woman (because women always get rebuked first) and rebuking Jesus.
There are six days for work and for healing. This is the Sabbath!
- Schedule an appointment.
- Come during office hours.
- Don’t interrupt the men in the synagogue (for in those days, the men were in the synagogue, the women could listen in from outside).
- Don’t interrupt worship.
- Someday a crazy reformer will tell people that these things must be done decently and in order. The way it should be!
But. The religious types don’t want healing on the Sabbath. They don’t want their routine disturbed. They don’t want worship to run over and be late to the kids’ soccer game or the golf course or the work that always seems to spill over on to the Sabbath.
Come some other day. You’ve spent eighteen years in hell, what is one more day?
Oh… Jesus is mad!
Don’t you feed your animals on the Sabbath? Don’t you water your plants on the Sabbath? Don’t you care for your children on the Sabbath?
How much more a daughter of Abraham, a child of God, a woman of our own faith in the Living God, bound by Satan, bent over by a spirit, ought to be freed on such a day.
Is not she worth more than your animals? Is she not more important than your plants? Is she not a child of our Heavenly Parent as much as we are?
Is not healing more precious than food? Is not healing more pleasing to God than water? Is not denying Satan another person a worthy thing, if chores to take care of animals and plants are worthy?
She has been bound for eighteen years. By a spirit.
What if, what if, what if?
What if the spirit of the congregation, judgmentalism, a hidebound binding of each life to the rules and customs and expectations is what has kept her bent over? What if the spirit of women always getting rebuked first, getting named and blamed and publically shamed, has kept her bent over? What if it is not just about seeing how Jesus can and does free the woman bound for eighteen years? What if it is about seeing that the religious types who deny healing on the Sabbath, the rules-keepers, are the ones who are bound? What if it is about seeing myself, and maybe some others, as ones who often prefer order and the illusion of peace and the status quo to holy interruptions and the Holy Spirit blowing where it wills?
Because when Jesus sets her free, she is free!
Where and I stuck? How am I bound? Where are we stuck? How are we bound?
Ought not we, children of God, to be set free, no matter what day it is?
Ought not we, “frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,” to be unbound so that
- we can take a deep breath, maybe for the first time in eighteen years,
- we can lift our arms in praise, maybe for the first time in a couple of decades,
- we find the joy in what we know to be true, that there is nothing greater than the love of God we know in Jesus Christ?
Woman, you are set free from your ailment.
Man, you are set free from your bondage.
Child, you are set free from your burden.
Children of God, you are set free from all claims upon you other than
the claim of God’s love within you.
And the religious types who wanted to control things and not let God work among the people shut up and sat down; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that [Jesus] was doing.
Thanks be to God.