Eleventh sunday After Pentecost: August 25, 2019
Year C, Proper 16: Jeremiah 1:4-10; Psalm 103:1-8; Hebrews 12:18-29 ; Luke 13:10-17
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The events of today’s Gospel reading take place on the Sabbath “at one of the synagogues”. Jesus is at worship on the Sabbath day. He was teaching that day as he did on many other Sabbath days. There is a woman present who has suffered for almost twenty years from a crippling disease. Jesus reaches out and heals her.
I suspect that Jesus was faced with quite a quandary in the synagogue on that Sabbath day. Because to be sure, Jesus was what might be called by some an observant Jew. To observe is to adhere to or abide by a law or duty. And Jesus was very good at teaching and observing the law.
For the leader of the synagogue who would have known well the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, the actions of Jesus were contrary to Jewish law. As far back as Exodus, the Jewish people were reminded to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work…” That same passage of Exodus specifically refers to livestock. That is, in fact, what probably provoked Jesus to call them hypocrites. may be what
But think about it. Jesus was in the middle of teaching. We know there was a crowd. Jesus could have pretended not to see this woman. The propriety of Jesus’ actions might seem even more dubious if we consider more precisely what says: The woman was “with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years”. She doesn’t appear to be in mortal danger. She has borne her affliction for eighteen years. Was it not reasonable to imagine that she could wait another day?
First century Palestine was about rules and regulations. So, why does Jesus not follow the law as it would have been understood by his peers? Especially since in the words we hear in Luke this woman hasn’t even asked Jesus to heal her. All Luke says is “when Jesus saw her, he said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
It might have been very tempting for Jesus to put off healing her until the “right” time. How often do we think, “I’ve got so much to do, call me next week.” It’s tempting to us to turn our attention to other priorities in our life and pretend we don’t see the bent-over woman at all, isn’t it?
But 2,000 years later with our understanding of Jesus as our Messiah, our savior, the Son of God, we understand that for Jesus to ignore the woman is impossible. Jesus is telling us in this passage is that it’s always the right time. It’s always the right time for every single one of us, in our daily lives, when we encounter a bent-over woman or man and take action.
God’s healing is often encountered in surprising places. I ask you to consider where or when have you encountered a glimpse of the healing grace of Jesus in place or time that was unexpected?
I share a brief example of that kind of encounter. On Thursday, I was searching for a music book that I know I have. In the midst of all the moving boxes, I found a yellow folder containing music dating back to the 70s and 80s. I also found a letter ending my candidacy with the Sisters of the Holy Child Jesus, a Roman Catholic religious community – my beloved SHCJ as I call them – the letter was dated March 1987. The letter was kind and generous. It pointed out some things I needed to work on. I’m not sure I recognized it as a healing moment then, but I certainly do thirty-two years later.
Then, on Friday, in the “things happen for a reason” category, I received a message that another one of the beloved SHCJ had died, quite unexpectedly. This was a woman who I met as a college freshman in 1979. I’ve known Jane for 40 years of my life. I spent as much time in her office in college as I did in the classroom, including times I should have been in the classroom. I suspect that when she encountered me as an 18-year old, I was a woman living “bent over”, a woman in need of healing.
We all to some extent live that way at times in our lives. This gospel helps me understand that Jesus knows we are bent over, that we are in need of healing. Jesus sees us with our walking stick, our cane, and reminds us that we don’t have to live that way. Jesus calls us “daughter” and “son”. He knows the truth about us, inside and out, and still calls us his own.
In healing the bent over woman, Jesus is pointing her and all of us to a full life, complete in the love of God, particularly when we acknowledge the bent-over people we encounter in our lives as Jane did for that lost 18-year old.
This gospel reminds me that God is the source of all being – that God gives us a full life. That is the foundation of the love that Jesus showed to the woman on that Sabbath day – he restored health so that the people of the temple could understand that a full life could be had by all.
That is what Jesus showed the people at the synagogue. Life means more than simply subsisting, living bent over; it means living fully. It means loving all people even when it isn’t convenient for us or even when we might not want to. It means speaking truth to the leaders of the synagogue and the leaders of the world.
In our baptism and in Christ’s example, we are called to acknowledge the bent over people we meet. We do this by refusing to draw boundaries, by refusing to exclude people from the fullness of life that God promises, by welcoming all people in our churches. And by recognizing Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ alone, as our redeemer.
We do it when we work to ensure that all people are fed, and clothed, and housed, and cared for when sick. We do it when we fix any system or practice that treats anyone as undeserving of a full life.
I see the similarities of the healings by Jesus in the Bible and the work we do in our communities. In today’s gospel, the woman has been restored not only physically, but her status in the community, as a daughter of Abraham, has been recognized.
Jesus is telling us that we are all God’s children and that God is at all times at work among us. It takes honesty and acceptance and courage to recognize that Christ is calling upon us to recognize the broken among us and to help people stand up straight.
Christ is always ready and waiting for us and for those whom we encounter. Christ, bent-over, Christ, crucified and risen, is waiting for us, offering to us a deep and abiding love and asking us to share it with the world, to use the words of the inimitable Nat King Cole, to “straighten up and fly right.” To straighten up and be healers in the name of Jesus Christ.
As we follow Jesus together, I pray that there will be healing and change, perhaps not as dramatic as the story in the Gospel today. But I pray that Jesus will continue to heal our spirits as he healed the bent over woman or as Jane helped heal the spirit of a young woman. Because remember, this is how today’s Gospel ends: “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.” Amen.
 Luke 13:10
 Exodus 20:8-10a
 Cf. Exodus 20:10-11; Luke 13:15
 Luke 13:11
 Luke 13:12
 Luke 13:17
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