Message for Pentecost 11 given on August 21, 2022 on Luke 13:10-17 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
Sometimes other people’s freedom offends us. It would be nice if this could simply be a lovely healing story, freeing the bent-over woman of this painful ailment preventing her from living a full life. She could not look her loved ones in the eye, view the blue sky, or spy stars at night with her grandchildren.
But Jesus’ action to heal and liberate her from this debilitating ailment offends the synagogue leader, and I imagine many others—it breaks all the rules of rest and sabbath and what is considered work and what is not. Thus, it evokes an uncomfortable question, one which the passage does not allow us to ignore: “Who’s healing offends us? Whose liberation from a life of being bound by pain, breaks rules that we hold dear or deem important?
Perhaps it is uninsured or unemployed people who offend us—they receive medical care in emergency rooms that they will never pay for while we are working hard to make our insurance co-payments. It may be immigrants at our southern border who are offensive—their numbers are increasing as they flee poverty, gang-related violence, abuse, and other issues. The number of immigrants who are victims of violence include sexual abuse making immigration a question of healing, especially for women and girls, but they may not being following our laws. Perhaps we struggle against other medical issues today—parents providing their trans youth healthcare; women seeking autonomy and privacy in reproductive healthcare—wherever you stand on these issues, there is opportunity for offense.
"But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying 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.'”
Anyone whose healing does not follow the rules we keep for our life and that we hold as “just” and right, or in today’s world, familiar to our experience, can easily become offensive.
A spiritual mentor taught me to ask a few questions, to reflect and pray, before reacting or responding any time I am offended. “What part of me is offended and why? What am I afraid of losing? What am I afraid of not getting?”
Usually, it is my ego that is offended. I am following the rules, I am working hard, or I am doing things how they are supposed to be done! Sometimes I believe I have the right information about a situation, or even, I am on God’s side or the side of justice or why doesn’t everyone just think the way I do?! Wouldn't life be easier if everyone just thought the way I did? (haven't you ever thought that?!)
The part of me that’s offended is always the part that likes to be in control with outcomes that feel the safest to me, but then I am not listening to what God requires of me in the situation, or who I need to listen to or to learn from, because all I am thinking is about me—of course that is the nature of the ego. Even if I deeply disagree with someone or a law or a policy, I can listen to their viewpoint, and try to understand their fears, and seek a common humanity. This is why I need to understand my own fears. Because even after prayer and meditation and I believe I really have discerned God's will in a situation, God never gives me a pass on treating people with love and compassion, no matter how much I might disagree with them--and this is something we are not very good in our divided country.
So, what are we afraid of losing when we are offended? It can be different depending on our personality and make up, but for most of us—we are afraid of being left out, or left behind; we are afraid that we do not matter, that we are not worthy or wanted, that we are not important or special; we fear that we will be betrayed or will fail, that we cannot be ourself or have needs. And if any of those fears become true and real, how will we get our bearings in the world, provide for our family, be safe, and imagine a future? We are afraid of not getting what we need.
We do understand the synagogue leader’s reaction to the healing of the bent over woman: just stick to the rules, Jesus and stop healing on Sabbath! Finding a common humanity when we are offended and divided on important rules and issues is difficult spiritual work.
The woman is not the only one who is bent over; fear bends us over ourselves, making it hard to see another’s humanity, hear their story and fears and hopes, or to listen to the kind of healing that will bring them liberation.
For the Sabbath itself was established out of liberation and freedom. The Ten Commandments begin with this statement in both Exodus and Deuteronomy: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of slavery.”
The commandment to remember the Sabbath and to rest comes from the God who liberates from slavery, which means that now the people do not have to work 7 days/week. The Hebrew word for Sabbath is shabbat, which as a verb means “stop”—just stop from labor. God is God and you are not. The world can turn without you and your busy-ness. On the Sabbath you worship a God who frees from slavery and oppression—which is also how Jesus describes healing the bent-over woman from her ailment—“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” You are liberated from your slavery to sickness.
What is truly offensive to God is not breaking the rules—which Jesus does not actually do, because healing is not forbidden in the Sabbath law, and it is God’s power that heals anyway—but rather, what offends God is using rules to keep people bound! It is not that rules and the Sabbath do not matter, of course they do, but do not use something intended for good as a tool of oppression!
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Jesus liberates her from being bound by pain, by isolation, by fear that accompanies her condition. Jesus’ healing was a true act of Sabbath—freeing her from slavery to illness and allowing her to stop and rest from sickness, and embrace new life!
The woman stands upright for the first time in 18 long years! She sees the face of God in Jesus, she feels the blood flow through her back and neck, she beholds the beauty of the Temple, she looks into the faces of people whose voices she has heard, but whose appearance she can barely recognize, she will see the blue sky and the stars twinkling at night, and praises pour forth from her mouth.
Jesus invites us to receive this same healing, wholeness, and fullness of life that God desires for all of us. What is the healing that you need today—what has you bent over or afraid?
• Perhaps it is a physical ailment for which you seek healing.
• Maybe it is anxiety or depression.
• It may be guilt over what you have done, or anger over what someone else has done.
• Perhaps it is grief, and sadness over the loss of a dearly loved one.
• It could be the on-going stress of pandemic, inflation, and weariness from it all.
• Or it may be that you need healing from being offended at those you do not know or understand as God opens your heart to a new response and deeper conversation, trusting that God in Jesus Christ will provide all we need.
Just as Jesus was present for the bent-over woman in the synagogue, Jesus is present here today, with us now. His risen presence dwells in each of our hearts and fills us with forgiveness, and new life in the bread and wine at this table where he sets us free from all that binds us and bends us over.
Jesus heals us with his very life, restoring us with all of the love, wholeness and hope we need to rise up and stand tall, facing one another in the joy of the Lord who takes no offense at any of us, but invites us with openness and grace to receive the healing touch of our Savior’s love.
During Communion, after you receive the elements, you can go up to the altar railing and kneel for individual healing prayer with two of our members. Those who prefer to stay on level ground and not to go up the steps, can go to the entryway where another member will pray with you sitting in a chair.
Also, the baptismal font will also be a place for individual private prayer for anyone who feels the urge to make a recommitment of your faith, and to renew your baptismal vows.
Come to the right side of the font, you can kneel or stand. If your faith has felt lukewarm and you need your faith re-invigorated, or if you want to know where God needs you to serve, the Holy Spirit will be your prayer guide! Don’t be shy, if you feel the urge to come to the right side of the baptismal font for your own individual prayer, then you are the reason I am making this invitation today! Also, I invite anyone on Zoom to mentally go to the right side of the Baptismal font for prayer, because the Holy Spirit is not limited by space, and the Spirit will show up for you as well.
Because now, none of us are surprised or offended at anyone else’s healing or liberation, so be free—be as Sabbath-free as the bent-over woman, to receive Jesus’ healing touch—cry, praise, rejoice—however the Spirit moves you!
Then we can all go from here, as agents of healing and hope, helping God’s people be free, whole, and upright, with fearless faces shining outward and upward, with the love of Christ.