This is a reflective essay I wrote ahead of Sunday's sermon, from Luke 13:10-17. I hope you enjoy it. What are your thoughts and comments on this discussion?
Below is the audio version of this essay, the essay itself, and the slides for Sunday.
I often wonder how we would have responded to Jesus if we had lived during the same time he did. Remember—it was the religious folks who had a problem with Jesus. They were the ones who saw Jesus in conflict with their understanding of the bible and their view of God. Would we have been any different?
On one occasion, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue when he noticed a woman who was crippled. This woman, who could not stand up straight, had been like this for eighteen years. Luke tells us that this woman had been crippled this way by a demonic spirit (Luke 13:10-17). Jesus took the initiative, called this woman forward, and healed her.
Big mistake! Because this healing occurred on a Sabbath, the synagogue leader became indignant. He needed to correct this error that Jesus made before it became out of hand. Instead of addressing Jesus privately, he addressed the people instead and blamed the woman by suggesting that there are six days each week when they can be healed, so they should come those days for healing, not on the Sabbath.
Perhaps because of this ridiculous response, Luke reminds us that when Jesus speaks, it is truly “the Lord” who is speaking. Jesus called the synagogue representatives “hypocrites” for overlooking human needs and the ability of compassion to serve those needs for the sake of their rules. After all, he says, you will take care of the needs of your own animals on the Sabbath. Is it not better to care for the needs of humans?
One application we can draw from this story is the way rules create and form communities so that insiders are separated from outsiders. If we consider the ways people who are different from us—whether through disabilities, different ethnicities, different social-economic backgrounds, etc.—are often left on the outside we can sympathize with the woman who functioned as an “outsider” because of the spirit that was crippling her.
Sure, she was represented in Judaism. She had her place. She was allowed to participate in the Jewish religious system. But she was constrained by the rules that created a system of “insiders” and “outsiders.” The insiders were pure and knew better than to seek help on the Sabbath (though she herself did not seek help). The outsiders, those who needed help, could get the help they needed—but only if they followed the rules (no healing on the Sabbath).
It is a simple observation that this Sabbath rule kept this woman on the outside by forcing her to meet a particular standard before she could enjoy full fellowship with the insiders—she needed to be healed and she needed to do it in the right way.
Perhaps you are indignant at the suggestion that we overlook people who are different from us. May I suggest that attitude is more like the synagogue leader than Jesus. This may be a sign that you like rules more than you like people. Rules are useful and helpful, but only as guidelines. Jesus' lesson is that people—and compassion, mercy, and justice shown to them—must always be more important than our rules.
In its worst form, we allow the rules of our Christian culture to overshadow our interactions with people. Outsiders truly are outsiders—people from outside our community—and they have no idea how to navigate the unwritten rules we create. Jesus' example in this story was an example of outreach—he reached out to a person in need and met their need in the hope of teaching something about God in the process. He calls us to do the same, to serve those in need and to share the love, compassion, mercy, and justice of God through our actions. In what ways have religious rituals compromised compassion, mercy, and justice?
We care more for those who are “in” when we create rules that benefit those we like the best, those who give the most money, or those who have “earned it” by being around the longest. This is wrong. Rules should never serve to subdivide the “worthy” from the “unworthy” or to keep people from God. It is the difference between being inward-focused (like the synagogue) or outward-focused (like Jesus). I want to be part of a church that is like Jesus.
Perhaps we can ask the question like this: Are we a church who overlooks the pain of outsiders for the comfort of insiders, or are we a church that calls the outsider forward over the objection of those bound by rules?