First Reading: Isaiah 58:9b-14 9bIf you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, 10if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. 11The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. 12Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. 13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; 14then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
Gospel: Luke 13:10-17 10Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “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? 16And 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?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Reading through this morning’s readings first of all felt to me like a lot of law. The Isaiah text especially seems to make all promises contingent first on what you do, and I must say that it was particularly disturbing to see the prophet accusing us of “trampling the sabbath by pursuing our own interests rather than making it a holy day of the Lord and providing it with adequate honor.
I could spend all day on the use and the abuse of sabbath, but I believe there is a better way. Instead, I’m going to share something with you that might help us to understand what Jesus was doing, and how we are called to be God’s people, not just on the Sabbath, but always.
Usually, I spend some time in the office on Saturdays, but yesterday was an exception. I didn’t even set foot in the building next door to the parsonage in which I live. Instead, I grabbed the plates of brownies I’d packaged up the night before into two zippered storage bags, loaded them, two lawn chairs, and myself into the Jeep and headed over to Barker’s Island. I wasn’t any too early, so the chairs stayed in the car right away as I carried the brownies to the tent on the island that boasted the banner: Survivor Sistership. It’s a team that paddles a dragonboat in the races at the annual Dragonboat Festival in Superior.
In some ways, I hardly feel like I belong on that team of breast cancer survivors, because I didn’t have the experience of most of them. I had only the experience of that dreaded diagnosis, and then the surgery—well, make that two surgeries. No chemo, no radiation, none of the rest of the stuff that the rest of that team has had to endure—at least not yet.
Our team has two practices in the weeks before we get out on the water for the races, though some members paddle all summer long. Would you believe me if I told you that we won?
We did not come in first or second or third, even among the four teams that were registered as all women. Our time was 2:28 in the morning and 2:23 in the afternoon. We didn’t have the slowest time of all the teams, but we were close! Yet, I say we won because the team was there. We won because we could be there, even those of us who could not paddle this year for whatever reason, representing those away and those now gone from us.
Healing stories like the one in today’s gospel reading are always difficult for me. At the age of 14 I was catapulted into the reality that faith does not guarantee healing in this life. My own mother’s death at a young age from breast cancer may be one reason mine was discovered so early, but there were years after her death during which I wondered if my trusting made me lazy, if I had prayed to little, or not fervently enough.
What a blessing it is to have heard one of my colleagues mention last week that this story, like many others, has Jesus healing someone who didn’t ask for it. That doesn’t mean we can’t ask, or that we shouldn’t. But then that had me wondering: why didn’t she ask?
I have a theory about that, even though there is of course no way to prove it. We can’t go back and ask her, at least not while we are still on this side of the resurrection.
Our story tells us that it was the sabbath, and that Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. It was then that this woman appeared. We don’t know whether she was already known to Jesus, or whether it was whispered to him, or whether it was divine knowledge that told him that her condition (which is blamed on a crippling spirit) had been one of eighteen years. Jesus sees her, and calls her over, and says, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
The story tells us that he laid his hands on her, and that immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. I imagine a bit of interplay, though. I imagine Jesus speaking the words and her responding with a “What? Why? Why me? I didn’t do anything!” And then Jesus lays his hands on her and suddenly everything that had been tight and sore and stretched in all the wrong ways is suddenly the way it should have been and it’s so astounding that she can’t help but praise God.
But then—then comes one called the leader of the synagogue. The leader complains that this is just not right. “There are six days on which work ought to be done,” he says, and then he blames the woman for coming to be cured on the sabbath day.
I’m rather certain that she hadn’t come to be cured. She’d lived with her ailment for 18 years. Maybe she just wanted to hear what this teacher in the synagogue was saying. Maybe she was actually doing something good for someone else. Maybe she was begging for alms from those in the synagogue. Maybe she was living the Isaiah text of somehow shining a light in the darkness—BUT IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT SHE WAS DOING! Whatever the reason, she was there, and Jesus saw an opportunity to do something good, and he did it—on the sabbath.
I lifted up my teammates earlier, of the Survivor Sistership. A theme of theirs, of ours, is that we do not merely survive, but that we seize life, and live each day with everything we’ve got.
As people of God, maybe we can grasp something of the same. Maybe we can raise our voices in praise of God, seizing opportunities to straighten up to shower praise to God and love of God for all in this community, for all in the whole world. Let us be free, free to shower God’s love in many and various ways, whether it be sabbath or workday, leisure or plan.
Whether the condition, the illness, or the cancer remains or is gone, we are freed to praise, freed to love, in Jesus’ name. Amen.