THEME: Unshakable Kingdom
A Heart of Compassion
If you pay close attention to the world around you, if you really open your eyes and look closely at the life of those who surround you, you will undoubtedly start noticing how much brokenness and suffering there is in our world. We tend to focus on our problems, and there is nothing wrong with that. Everybody knows that when you are trying to solve something, you need to give it your undivided attention.
However, self-centeredness can affect us in such a way that our hearts become as hard as a rock. In Jesus’s day, many people had lost sympathy, pity, and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. They lacked compassion.
Many of the people Jesus taught were bound by strict laws that prescribed the correct ways to worship God. They presumed holiness and followed a certain hierarchy where the religious leaders, scribes, and Pharisees headed the list, and Gentiles and sinners sank to the bottom. They focused so much on what they could not do that they completely lost track of what they were supposed to do–love their neighbour as they loved themselves.
When Jesus heals the woman who had been bound by illness for 18 years, his actions suggest that the Pharisees did not have a monopoly on holiness (or healing), and that in fact, a greater form of worship than theirs is to serve God with a pure heart and restore those who struggle with sickness and disease. Jesus shows that recognizing and reaching out in love to those who are marginalized honours God more than being bound to a prescribed mode of worship. Love is a higher law.
Our texts for this week speak of healing—physical healing, spiritual healing, societal healing. I hope that these texts speak a word of healing to you this day.
The unshakeable kingdom: Luke’s gospel uses the occasion of a miracle to communicate other spiritual truths.
Physical healing can lead to an understanding for the need for liberation from oppression, spiritual pain, or anything that cripples the soul.
The story from Luke 13 speaks of a woman bowed down, unable to stand upright for 18 long years. Can you imagine? She has to twist her head around awkwardly in order to glimpse the sky, the sun, and the stars, or to look into people’s faces.
When Jesus sees her, he has compassion on her, “Woman, you are set free,” he says. And then he touches her and she is able to stand upright, to see the faces of the people around her clearly for the first time in a very long time. Physical healing lifts a terrible burden from her, and she praises God.
But the leader of the synagogue reacts to this miracle of healing by scolding those gathered there—“There are six other days in the week, people! Come on those days to be healed, but not on the sabbath!” His interpretation of the law blinds him to the miracle before him.
Which is discouraging, since the Sabbath is given way back in Exodus as a gift, a gift of life to those who have known the terrible burden of slavery.
The Hebrew word for Sabbath is shabbat, which as a verb means simply to stop. Stop and rest. The world will continue to turn without you. God is God and you are not. The world does not depend on your busy-ness. So just stop.
And more than that, according to the Sabbath law in the Ten Commandments, let your own slaves rest, too. Remember how it was to be a slave? Remember how it was to work without rest? Well then, don’t do that to another human being.
By Jesus’ time, the Sabbath law was interpreted differently by different Jewish sects. There was an ongoing debate among rabbis and other teachers of the law—What could you do and not do on the Sabbath? What constituted “work”? Lighting a fire to cook? Taking your livestock out to pasture?
It is worth noting that the synagogue leader in the Gospel story today is not the strictest interpreter of the Sabbath law. In a parallel story in Matthew 12, Jesus poses a question to the Pharisees who challenge him for healing on the Sabbath:
He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12)
Jesus’ question makes it clear that the Pharisees did, in fact, consider it lawful to rescue an animal who had fallen into a pit on the Sabbath. By contrast, the contemporaneous Qumran community ruled that one could not on the Sabbath lift up an animal that had fallen into a pit. Moreover, if a person had fallen into a pit on the Sabbath, one could not use a rope, ladder, or any other instrument to help that person.1
So, the leader of the synagogue is not the strictest interpreter of the Sabbath commandment. Nevertheless, he does consider healing on the Sabbath a violation of the law. But Jesus, who of all people knows the heart of God, calls him and his fellow leaders out: “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?”
And here we see the heart of the Father, the heart of God. God wills life, abundant life for God’s children. And God gives the Sabbath law in order to ensure such abundant life for all of God’s children, especially those who have been burdened by physical ailments or by human oppression.
The Hour That Changes Everything – How worship forms us into the people God wants us to be:
A significant part of the practice of Sabbath is aligning ourselves with God’s rhythm. As rhythm organises a piece of music in time according to speed and pattern, so Sabbath organises our lives according to God’s sense of time – God’s tempo and pattern. This is more than simply giving ourselves a breather or allowing ourselves time to rest so that we can launch back into our busyness with renewed vigour. Sabbath is about learning to recognise the significance of moments in time. It is about learning to recognise God’s tempo and pattern for us, our community and our world, and it is about matching our pace with these eternal rhythms.
Hear again this good news: God in Christ frees you from whatever binds you. God heals you. God gives you rest. God forgives you and frees you to live life, and to live life abundantly.
I pray that you experience the healing and rest that you proclaim this week, dear friends. Thank you for your faithfulness in that proclamation.