Sermon Commentary for Sunday, August 21, 2022
Luke 13:10-17 Commentary
“Don’t go getting any ideas.” That’s the leader’s message to the multitude of people who have gathered on the Sabbath day and were just given a spark of hope. That’s the leader’s response to Jesus’ miraculous healing of a woman’s horrible suffering. Not here, not today, not for any of the rest of you. Imagine being at church and seeing someone made well and whole, and then immediately wanting to make sure that no one else has the chance. It makes me cry.
Notice how the story is told. The leader of the synagogue is passive aggressively blaming the woman for being in need. He is mad that Jesus did the healing, but the leader doesn’t rebuke Jesus. Instead, the leader chooses to yell at the people in need. There’s a right way, an acceptable way to be in need, and showing it, hoping it might get better on the Sabbath, that ain’t it. Maybe he’s afraid to confront Jesus about it. Maybe he’s just used to speaking down to others. Or maybe while he’s barking at the crowd, he’s making his way through the people to tell Jesus how inappropriate he is acting.
It seems to me that there’s a lot of assumptions behind the leader’s indignation. For starters, there’s the assumption that his understanding of what is right and wrong for the Sabbath is the correct one. Whether it came from a sense of superiority from his position as the leader of the synagogue or not, this guy thinks he has every right to complain about a good thing because it is the Sabbath day.
Then there’s the fact that he assumed the woman is the reason the healing occurred. He seems to also think that there are other people like her in the crowd, hoping to disrupt the holy Sabbath practices and rituals with their needs. Whatever this guy does believe about the Sabbath, it does not seem to include a sense that one of the ways the Sabbath was made for our restoration might include our physical healing.
Maybe he also knows that one spark of good has the potential to travel like a wildfire of hope, quickly becoming something outside of his control. We know from other accounts in the book of Luke that once one healing happens, word spreads and people bring their loved ones to be healed from a variety of sufferings, spiritual and physical.
The leader’s view is more about himself than it is about anyone else—including God. To him, healing, helping someone else get better is work, not worship. This too is more than a little sad.
Jesus thinks that it is more than sad; he knows it is sinful. This same man would have no issue with him or his friends untying their ox and leading it to nourishment on the Sabbath day, so why are they treating this woman (and others like her) as less important and less valuable than their animal property? Why do they think making sure their needs are taken care of is okay, but someone being healed—and therefore taken care of by someone else—is not?
Again, notice how the story is told. We start with Jesus teaching in the synagogue when this woman “appeared” (a way of trying to capture the sense of the Greek word idoú which is a bit like, “Behold! Look!”). Even though she has spent the last eighteen years suffering from spiritual and physical bondage, here she is, coming to synagogue, presumably to learn, on the Sabbath day. We get a fair amount of detail about her condition— length, cause, and result. It paints a rather difficult reality: she is unable to stand with her head up, eyes and body always downcast. If you try to stand the way her body is described, you’ll realize that lifting your head up is near impossible: you’re always looking down at the ground. This woman did not come to “see” Jesus; she has no agenda for him.
Jesus “sees” her.
And when he sees her, Jesus stops his teaching and he decides to set her free, to meet her clear need. Jesus pronounces her spiritually free (“free” is in the perfect tense, so her freedom is forever!), Jesus touches her as an act of physical freedom, and immediately she stands up straight, able to see the one who has blessed her. We don’t get to know what she says exactly, but we are shown the correct response to what has occurred: the woman continuously praises God.
We hear her praises from one ear and the leader’s indignation in the other. If we sat in the scene long enough, we might also come to find that we can sense the confusion the crowd might have felt. On the one hand, they have just witnessed something awe-filling and are hearing the praise victory song. On the other, they are being told by the authority figure that they are bad if they want more of it— don’t even dare to dream that they could have some of it for themselves, they are warned.
It is this sort of limiting that seems to anger Jesus the most. The leaders of the synagogue appear to be more willing to serve their beasts than their brothers and sisters. But there’s another layer to their hypocrisy. As we have seen throughout the gospel of Luke, the leaders of the faith tradition have joined in a long line of interpreting the law for its boundaries on others rather than for its calling upon themselves. And by falling into this pattern of obedience to the law, they have become killjoys of God’s glory.
Denying God his glory and praise is quite a serious sin for a synagogue leader, for this is part of the very thing he has been tasked with protecting and promoting. Even though they probably did not intend to become it, they have become “opponents” to the very God they wish to serve and worship. No wonder the leaders felt such shame when Jesus confronts them with their reality.
In my experience, shame is often accompanied with silence, eyes cast down. (Sometimes it comes with lots of verbal excuses, but even this feels a bit like digging a deeper hole and sinking lower towards the ground.) Whereas our healed woman has been lifted up and is standing tall and praising God, our leaders have been brought low and silenced.
The story ends with yet another comparison. The leader’s silence now is matched by the crowd’s praise. Now that they know it is safe to join the woman’s worship, they let loose. The spark has been set, Jesus’ message has been delivered and the praise is spreading. God will be glorified and people will be set free—set free from satan’s power, from sin, and from each other. Where once the message was no, not today, not for you, the promise of God is Yes! Today is the day! This is the place! It is for us!
By the use of the imperfect verb, the leader is depicted as repeatedly saying, “Six days are for this business, come back on one of them!” The woman who is healed is also described as “praising God” with the imperfect tense. We could get the sense that his repetition is trying to match her praises. The woman is praising God and the worse thing this guy can think of is that praise will multiply. Yikes.
When I think about the way the story ends—with the whole crowd joining the woman and embracing hope and praising Jesus for all that was doing— Hunger Games’ three finger salute came to mind. It started in District 12 but spread with Katniss during the Hunger Games to become a symbol of solidarity among all of the districts during their rebellion. It only takes a spark to set off a wildfire of hope and praise.
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