Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.’ When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But 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.’ But 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? 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?’ When 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.One way of approaching this reading would be to focus on the position of the leader of the synagogue as a strict law follower who regarded women as chattel. Retell the story from the perspective of a first century Jew. Describe how synagogues operated back then. Remember to substitute the word "ass" for donkey at some point so as to wake up your sleepy headed pewsitters. Then proceed to draw a parallel between the indignant priest and "Southern" segregation and racial prejudice of the past. Finally, throw in the usual "pink herring" of using scripture to defend slavery, and voilà, whenever you so choose to bring up a new thang, use the same argument when you have an elephant coming out of the closet. To the rector's credit, he did not mention the elephant...today.
I am sure that there are other lessons to be learned from Luke's Gospel, and I will try to track some down...tomorrow. You see, today's lessons about working on the Lord's day tied in well with my busy weekend work schedule. Work this weekend must be done, and in my case it is a honor and privilege to do so. There are things that I did and said at work that did not work out very well today and were probably not pleasing to the Lord. Thankfully, God also allowed time for me to participate in worship at the church. On any given Sunday, many come not just to worship, but for healing. At our church, healing services are not standard Sunday fare. I wonder what people would have thought if our lay reader had, after reading the O.T. lesson, started calling people up to be healed. What if visitors had been tipped off that this was going to happen and the whole worship service wound up being hijacked by the lay healer and those in need of healing? Would the priests have gone with the flow, or would they have gently said, "We have a service on Wednesday for that. Please come back at that time for the healing service, after all we have to hurry to get to the parish picnic."
When I read this Gospel lesson, I tend to focus on the importance of caring for the sick and broken, their presence in the great congregation, and how we tend to make excuses to avoid the work. Jesus' chastises us for such behavior. The crowd has come because they heard that the healer would be in this place. When there is a job to be done, do it. God's work be done first, then you can go to the picnic.
The whole subject of work on the Sabbath should be a post by itself, but I can see Jesus' point that even untying your donkey is "work." It is impossible to even breathe without expending energy. I recall the story provided by a waitress of the man who asked her to open his sugar packet and to pour it into his beverage so that he might not perform any work on the Sabbath. I guess the act of lifting the cup and swallowing was not considered "work" because the waitress was not asked to do that for her customer. Perhaps a post about the spirit of the law and the letter of the law would be something to consider...tomorrow.
The story is not just about the Sabbath law being broken by Jesus, and getting the priesthood upset, but that we are all hypocrites. We are all broken in need of healing. Jesus' service was and is a healing service for bodies and for souls. I think that is the kind of service He has in mind for us too.