To help you understand the importance of today’s lesson, I’m going to put on a little demonstration. I’m standing nice and straight, and now I’m going to bend at my waist. Now I’m looking straight down at the floor. That isn’t extremely uncomfortable. I could easily stay bent over like that for a few minutes, but what if I had to stay bent over like that all the time? What if I had to stay bent over like that day after day and year after year for eighteen years? That would be quite a different story, wouldn’t it? What if I went to the store and I needed something from the top shelf? I can’t even see the top shelf, much less reach the items on that shelf! I would have to depend on someone to find and get the items I needed.
In today’s Bible reading, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath when he saw a woman who was crippled. She had been bent over double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, He called her over to Him, touched her and said, “Woman, you are healed!” Instantly she could stand up straight. She was so happy that she began to praise God!
You would think that everyone in the synagogue that day would be happy and join the woman in praising God. Not so! The leader in charge of the synagogue was very angry that Jesus had healed the woman on the Sabbath day. He told the crowd, “There are six days of the week for working. Come on those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath.”
Luke often highlights the reaction of the audience to Jesus’ actions. This instance may be especially significant, since it signals a growing rift between the joy of those who delighted in Jesus’ works and the anger of the religious leaders.
The Pharisees and their Sabbath traditions were the issue that most frequently provoked controversy in Jesus’ ministry. For example, nothing in Scripture forbade either the watering of an ox or the healing of the sick on the Sabbath. The Pharisees and their Sabbath traditions placed a higher value on animals than on people in distress. That corrupted the whole purpose of the Sabbath. When we care more for keeping the rules than we do for the welfare of people made in God’s image, we miss the whole point of our existence. In Romans 10:13, the Bible says, “love is the fulfillment of the law.”
We should not be too critical of the Pharisees, because we can be the same as them. We are prone to make rules about things. We see something that isn’t quite right, so we make a rule to deal with it. Before we know it, all of these rules become a heavy burden. After a while, God’s grace and the freedom Jesus came to bring us are nowhere to be seen.
Some of us might not be accustomed to thinking of the church as a place where hurting people are invited to “stand up straight,” especially people who are disenfranchised and marginalized by those who hold power and authority both inside and outside the Church. I’m thinking of the 2019 General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada. A resolution to approve same sex marriages was approved by lay and clergy delegates but was defeated by the House of Bishops. Because resolutions have to be approved by a 2/3 majority in all three groups, the resolution was defeated. When the results were announced, there was sadness in the LGBTQ population. Thankfully many of the bishops who are in favour of same-sex marriages have announced that they will use their episcopal authority to allow same-sex marriages in their dioceses.
Every church has what is known as “the cold-water committee.” Whenever the fire of God starts burning in the hearts of some people, they rise up and pour cold water on it. Whenever there is a new and creative way to do church, they pour cold water on that idea. The cold-water committee is not an elected committee; the members are self-appointed. They think it’s their job to make sure things don’t get out of hand in their church. Their favourite phrases are, “We don’t do things like that around here,” or, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Like the leader of the synagogue, these people may even quote a little Scripture, but they are more into rules than into the liberty Jesus gives. We must not become a part of that committee, and we must not pay any attention when someone on that committee corners us to complain about something he or she doesn’t like.
The leader of the synagogue was angry at Jesus, but instead of taking it out on Jesus, he took it out on the crowd. In his rebuke, Jesus dealt with the real issue-the appropriateness of healing on the Sabbath. He was not simply teaching about fruitful living. His exchange with the woman was a living parable. He exposed God’s compassion for the people He made in His image.
Jesus answered the leader of the synagogue, “You hypocrite! All of you work on the Sabbath! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey and lead it out for water? Doesn’t this dear woman deserve to be healed, even on the Sabbath?” The leader was shamed, but the other people were happy and rejoiced at all of the wonderful things that Jesus did.
When Jesus spoke to the leader of the synagogue, He turned a tough conversation into a refusal to witness injustice. He saw that the leader was taking out his frustration on the wrong people and He intercepted it. Jesus didn’t just call out the leader. He took the abuse that was rightfully His instead of letting someone else get yelled at. He took responsibility and used His privilege to protect people who couldn’t defend themselves.
We know this sort of good leadership when we see it. It’s the boss who takes responsibility for the mistakes of his/her employee and deals with the lecture from upper management so the employee can focus on fixing the mistake and learning from it. It’s the spouse who takes over when they see that their partner’s tiredness and frustration is at risk of spilling onto the kids. It’s the pastor who meets with the self-righteous parishioner who just doesn’t think it’s right to let “those people” such as a gay couple, unmarried parents or a family of undocumented refugees worship here too. It’s the kind of leadership that nobody really wants to have to do, but good leaders know it’s part of the system-you have the power, and sometimes you have to run interference for those who have less.
When Jesus asked if it was lawful for the woman to be healed on the Sabbath, He wanted the people to think about what they are doing in life. The religious leaders thought they did all of the people’s thinking for them, especially with all of the 613 rules. Jesus asked a question that showed they had a lot to learn. Jesus knew that the larger purpose of the Sabbath was to free people from whatever holds them in bondage-including work. On several occasions Jesus showed radical care for the less fortunate. As people of faith, we are called on to place the needs of fellow Christians ahead of societal and religious norms.
The healing of the crippled woman should have made it clear to the religious leaders who Jesus really was-the one who is the Lord of the Sabbath and the one who has mastery over the power of evil in the world. But all they saw was a man who was breaking the Sabbath. The leader missed the true meaning of the Sabbath. What he missed was compassion, especially the kind of compassion that trumps legalism all the time.
The only way these religious leaders would have been happy for the Sabbath to be broken was if a person’s life was in danger. Jesus answers them by saying that what He was doing for the woman was necessary. It’s necessary to liberate people from the clutches of evil and this is a work that must continue seven days a week.
Jesus knew that rules are important, but he knew that the needs of people are more important. We need to learn that lesson as well. Whenever we see someone in need, the most important thing is to help them, no matter when or where it may be. True holiness is not strict adherence to the rules. True holiness means recognizing who we are-children of God. True holiness is setting the captives free. True holiness is being able to sing a fully-voiced song of praise.
Jesus didn’t stop at freeing the woman. He restored her to community-her community. At the same time, He called on that community to repent of its hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness and embrace her as its own-not as an object of pity or scorn, but as a daughter, as an heir, as a human being worthy of both love and dignity.
Keeping the Sabbath holy meant reserving that day for worshipping God. The people had various ideas about what constituted worship and therefore exactly what kept the Sabbath holy. People have similar ideas today. There are many people who claim to be able to worship God in nature, at a sporting event, or on the golf course. The proper way to worship God is to go to church on Sunday and enjoy fellowship with other believers.
We have to set aside our agendas to be present for those around us if that is what God needs us to do. How do we respond to unexpected opportunities to praise God and lead like Jesus? We have to remember the people around us. We have to be willing to help people who are in need wherever we go-restaurants, the doctor’s office, the grocery store, walking around our neighbourhood, or even driving down the road. The right thing to do is the most loving thing to do. Jesus wants us to care for one another, even on the Sabbath. Whenever someone is in great pain and suffering, we show the meaning of the Sabbath when we become agents of healing. The Sabbath is made for rest, and it is also made for showing God’s love through acts of care and hospitality.
Today we may feel chained, bent or broken. Jesus is calling to us. He is asking us to come to Him. He wants to set us free. He wants to straighten our souls, our lives, our future paths. Jesus came to straighten us so we could follow Him with lives of praise.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; p. 1413-1414)
- “Jesus Heals on the Sabbath.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Bible (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- Lucado, M.: The Lucado Life Lessons Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson; 2010)
- Larsen, B. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 26: Luke (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1983; pp. 220-221)
- Dave Wyrtzen, “Animals and People.” Retrieved from www.TurthEncounter.com
- Beth Fellinger, “Messing with the Status Quo.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Berni Dymet, “When Rules Get in the Way.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Kelly McFadden, “Removing the Mask.” Retrieved from www.homeword.com
- Jeffrey Eisele, “Luke 13:10-17.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rev. Dr. Ruth Hamilton, “Keeping the Sabbath Holy.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- “In the Moment.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- David Dykes, “When You Get Out of Shape.” Retrieved from www.preaching.com
- Ron Moore, “Crooked Timber.” Retrieved from www.ronmoore.org
- The Rev. Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost-August 25, 2019.” Retrieved from www.patheous,com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2019/08/the-adventurouos-lectionary.html
- Debie Thomas, “She Stood Up Straight.” Retrieved from www.jouorneywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay