Sermon Trinity 13
Luke 13: 10-17
Last week and again this week we read in our gospel passage that Jesus calls the crowds hypocrites.
Last week it was because they could read the skies and know when it was going to rain etc.; they knew how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but they didn’t know how to interpret the present time and what God was bringing to them.
In this week’s reading Jesus has compassion on a woman who has been crippled for 18 years, she doesn’t ask for healing yet Jesus takes pity on her and lays his hands on her making her whole. She stands up and praises God. The leaders of the synagogue are not happy; Jesus has broken the Jewish law of not working on the Sabbath. They say there are 6 days when work ought to be done, come on these days and be cured.
But, Jesus doesn’t do oughts and shoulds, he sees someone in pain and he releases them from it, Sabbath or no Sabbath. So, again, he calls the crowds hypocrites, and says “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it to water, so ought not this woman a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day. When he said this all his opponents were put to shame.”
And indeed there are times when we are put to shame, when we put oughts and should before the welfare of others. Are we like the synagogue leaders, trapped in continuing the way things are done that they cannot see when a good thing is happening, that what is happening is the breaking through of the glory of God? It is there right in front of them, but they push God away and keep searching.
So where would we stand on that Sabbath day in the synagogue? Luke’s telling of this event may both judge us and console us…We are consoled because we all receive mercy from God even if we have not asked for it.
Yet most of us are only too willing to set limits against other people when they do not quite fit with our sense of how things should be. Think of a screaming baby at a wedding or noisy children in a church service, do we thank God that the families have come to share in the kingdom or do we banish them from the church?
There is a lovely story about a disturbance in church. An evening meditation type service started in the small chapel, restless thoughts began to settle, but then a whispering began. It came from a woman in the group whom no one knew. She had joined the small congregation that evening, everyone had smiled a welcome but this was difficult. She whispered prayers, first quietly but then noisily, asking God for mercy and then lifting her hands in agonised praise. The shared silence splintered as the woman’s distress filled the chapel. No one knew what to do. Should she be asked to leave? Should she be told to be quiet?
The priest stood up. He moved across the space and sat down beside the woman. Very gentle he spoke to her: “I wonder if you could help me?” I need to say some words to everyone. Could you hold my book while I speak?” The woman smiled at him “Yes” she said, and took his book and was silent as he began to lead a reflective prayer, remaining at her side. Peace filtered back into the evening.
Compassion was shown to this woman in the chapel that evening which parallels the depth of God’s mercy in the gospel passage – Jesus notices the distress of a woman who makes no demands and reaches out to heal her. Such mercy, such compassion, such love, such absolute understanding is at the very heart of God. And we see this clearly in the woman who stands up straight after years of pain, and she quite straightforwardly praises him… We sometimes need to know when to uphold tradition and when something greater is happening.
Today’s reading also reminds us of another time when Jesus was in the synagogue to worship on the Sabbath; the event recalls the words from Isaiah that Jesus read. “He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives…to let the oppressed go free.” At the time the words were not received well, and now the words are made reality things go even worse. Words can be managed but putting those words into practise starts a rising tension in the synagogue among the leaders, as the crowd rejoiced at the wonderful things that Jesus was doing.
Let’s hope that the joy that the woman found after being healed was not stifled by the negativity around her and that through the tension she was still able to worship the God who healed her. And this is something we need to take on board in our lives, tensions crowd in on us but Jesus is always there to heal us. I don’t mean from all our ailments but from the bondage of all our human made oughts and shoulds. Amen