A sermon, based on Luke 13.10-17, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost, August 25, 2019
“…there appeared a woman…crippled…bent over…unable to stand up straight”
She moved through her world gazing at the ground, staring at her feet. Her hand, lest she fall over, always clutched a staff; her palm, now, permanently chafed. Whenever someone spoke to her, she craned her now persistently aching neck, straining to respond with the respect of showing at least part of her face.
After nearly twenty years, she barely remembered her former life when she was healthy and whole, standing upright, looking at life eye to eye.
Jesus of Nazareth was in town. She had heard about him. His passionate preaching, his authoritative teaching, and his healing power. All signs of the presence of God’s kingdom. Dare she believe any of it? Especially the healing? And if true, dare she hope that she could, that she would be blessed by him and set free from her infirmity?
None of her daring, believing, hoping mattered if she didn’t get to the synagogue. So, broken-bodied, yet strong-willed, shuffling her feet as fast as she could, she made it!
As was the custom of rabbis, Jesus stood to read from the scroll of the prophets, then sat down to teach.(1) All, waiting, listened. Unexpectedly, he called to her. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then he touched her. Suddenly, a strange, long-ago, long-lost sensation, like an electric spark, ran up her spine, then warmth flooded her body, casting out a cold spirit. Instantly, standing up straight, she praised God!
Yet the leader of the synagogue, who “kept saying to the crowd,” repeatedly shamed Jesus with that oppressive word of judgment, “ought,” for healing on the Sabbath, thus violating the letter of God’s Law to do no work.(2) Clearly, he, a biblical legalist, a biblical literalist, did not know that Jesus embraced, embodied the Spirit of the Law: the life of love, the righteousness of wholeness.
When Jesus began his ministry in a synagogue in Galilee, he read the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, anointing me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he said: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”(3)
Then, in immediate succession…
In a synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man.(4)
At Simon Peter’s home, Jesus healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever,(5) and “all who were sick with various diseases.”(6)
Continuing his journey, he said to his disciples, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities, for I was sent for this purpose.”(7)
In this spirit, Jesus answered the leader of the synagogue. If, on the Sabbath, you help an animal in need, how much more a human being? Even more, God’s “ought” is not strict observance of the letter of the Law, but fulfillment of its Spirit, which is liberation from any and every kind of bondage on any and every day!
Today, as Jesus spoke to that “daughter of Abraham,” he speaks to us, daughters and sons of his God, our God…
I digress. “If,” with its two letters, one of the shortest, smallest of words, is huge in its implications. For as a conditional, whatever follows the word if may or may not apply to you. Thus, if it does, you might pay heed to it, and, if not, you might ignore it. However, I have a hunch that, as I’m wont to say, for any one of you…any one of us who has lived but a moment, the proverbial “two seconds” of life in this world, what I am about to say will apply to all of us…
If there is anything that binds and bends us over in spirit – past failures, old ruinous behaviors, memories of poor choices, grievous long-lasting resentments about long-standing hurts; anything about which we apply the “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” legal language of our contemporary self-judgment: “I wish I had…” and “I wish I hadn’t…” – Jesus says, “You are set free!”
Hearing, believing this good news, let us, no longer stooped over in spirit, stand up straight, face to face with Jesus, eye to eye with God, believing, knowing that we are fulfilled and filled with God’s life and love, righteousness and wholeness.
(1) See Luke 4.16-17a, 20a
(2) See Exodus 20.9-10, Leviticus 23.3, and Deuteronomy 5.13-14.
(3) Luke 4.18-19, 21
(4) Luke 4.31-35
(5) Luke 4.38-39
(6) Luke 4.40
(7) Luke 4.43
Christ healing an infirm woman on the Sabbath (1886-1896), James Tissot (1836-1902)
Jesus Unrolls the Book in the Synagogue (1886-1894), James Tissot