A preacher was on vacation and came home to a flood “of Biblical proportions.” He spoke of needing to canoe out of his Louisiana house and escape the devastation.
That the preacher is notorious for a sense of ill-will to many and is politically powerful gave the experience a sense of delicious irony.For how many is the condemnation of GOD the crux of the gospel? Click To Tweet
Proper 16C | Luke 13:10-17
Last fall, this preacher supported the idea that GOD punishes people with natural disasters.
That isn’t his normal stock in trade. We’re used to that from Pat Robertson. But then a radio show host said that last fall’s Hurricane Joaquin was GOD’s response to the legalizing of gay marriage. And the preacher responded that maybe GOD was “trying to send us a message.”
Honestly, I wanted to revel in the deliciousness of the irony. Like the bad guy got his comeuppance in the end.
But I was more bemused by the story. Of what the preacher really believes. What he believes GOD is really up to. Does he honestly think GOD punishes the country with natural disasters? Does GOD punish our individual actions with sickness?
And if he doesn’t really believe this, then why did he go along with such dangerous and strident theology? Maybe it was a joke. I suppose that’s probably true.
But for how many is this not a joke? For how many is the condemnation of GOD the crux of the gospel?
For we as a people really do struggle with understanding why bad things happen to good people. With what we would call the providence of GOD: how GOD acts in the world.
Jesus is asked this very question.
At the beginning of chapter 13, he’s asked by his followers about a tragedy which has befallen some Galileans at the hands of the emperor. And Jesus asks them
“Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?”
Is tragedy tied to sin? No, he says.
“Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem?”
No, he says.
Then he tells a parable of a barren fig tree and a negotiation. The owner sees the tree isn’t bearing fruit so he asks the gardener to chop it down–it is wasting good soil. The gardener pleads to give it one more year.
Is GOD behind these tragedies? No. We are.
Not as individuals for our sin. Not as a community for our sin. Not as GOD’s rebuttal. But that we give one another tragedy. We allow unjust trees to suck up nutrients from just soil.
GOD doesn’t punish us like that.
Remember Jesus has been warning about the yeast (the hypocrisy) of the Pharisees. And spoke against the divisions which cause great inequality and injustice to the people. And he has come to expose that injustice. And in the midst of that is this very real, very human question:
Does GOD punish us with sickness and tragedy?
And while we feel compelled to ask does GOD do this? Jesus’s contemporaries assumed GOD does.
Here enters the bent-over woman.
So Jesus goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath. And we all know Jesus has a thing for flouting Sabbath Law. But he does something a little different here. And given the context, it is revealing of a more significant theme in this gospel.
He sees this woman crippled by a spirit. For 18 years, she has been bent over. But the writer of Luke doesn’t make this into a simple healing or exorcism story. He has grander ambitions.
Jesus doesn’t say she is healed, but freed.
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”
You are loosed from your bondage, you are liberated from your slavery. Those 18 years, you were bound, like the 18 years “Eglon the Moabite king and the Philistines… oppressed the Israelites”.
You are free.
And immediately she stands up, her bent shoulders straighten, like an ox removing a yoke or a slave removing heavy chains. She is literally liberated from her oppression.
And what does she do? She praises GOD. Out loud. Hands raised. She is free.
So was GOD behind her oppression? No!
GOD’s behind her liberation!
Of course the leader of the synagogue doesn’t like this. For good reason. Jesus is breaking one of the ten commandments. This is no small thing here. What are we supposed to do with Jesus breaking laws?
And the leader’s argument is a really good one. I’ve heard variations of it in the church world! He pleads C’mon, there’s 6 days for work. Do you have to do it on this one? That’s a good argument. Couldn’t it wait?
In another gospel, Jesus makes a case for urgency. When a life’s in danger, even waiting one day to save them is too long.
But here, Jesus makes a different argument. An argument about the character of the Sabbath itself.
The Sabbath is for liberation.
Sabbath law is a great equalizer. It isn’t just for CEOs to take a day off, but it forces slave owners to give their slaves a day, not only free from work, but free from the yoke of oppression. Even animals, the ox and the donkey receive relief. Because all of us, all our people were slaves.
This isn’t a day off for middle class workers; a day where stores are closed or that darn soccer doesn’t take our people away. It isn’t just about rest and time off from work for hard-working Americans. It is a day to unsettle our relationships to one another and to all creation.
Sabbath is the founding principle of the Jubilee–the teaching that says all slaves are to be set free on the 7th year of service. When debts are forgiven on the 7th year. When all the fruits of the whole farm are given away for the whole 7th year.
Jesus sees the Sabbath with a Jubilee lens. It’s for freedom.
He appeals to daily feeding of animals. That the Sabbath is not a day of withholding and oppressing. But a day in which we meet the daily needs of others.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. For if the Sabbath is for liberation of animals from the yoke of oppression, then how much more is the liberation for a “daughter of Abraham”?
We might remind ourselves that the Law itself is for freedom. We free daughters sold into slavery for their poor treatment, whose sustenance is withheld.
So here is Jesus freeing this daughter from slavery. This oppression. The sustaining life of GOD deprived for 18 years. Left to struggle because she must’ve done something wrong, right?
Not on the Sabbath. The Sabbath is for liberation.
This is what GOD communicates to us about Jesus.
Jesus breaks through the pain and the oppression we impose on each other.
Jesus shows us the problem isn’t GOD. Or the Law. Or the Pharisees. Or even Rome and the Jewish leadership. The problem is us. The problem is what we do to one another.
It is the violence and the oppression. It is the scapegoating and the blaming. But at the root of it all, it’s our indifference to oppression. It is the justifications we give for why suffering is OK. Or the reasons we give for why it’s OK to shun the weak, the sick and tell them there’s something wrong with them. With them, not us.
But Jesus gives us this alternative to what we’re used to. Jesus gives us this thing which has always been there. A path that started all the way back to when GOD called a man from Ur and said I’ve got this cool thing I want to see you do. And I promise you that this thing will change the world through all your descendents.
From the beginning, GOD has been liberating and calling us to liberate each other.
This is what Jesus is revealing to us about our present age. That the divisions we have are unjust. That our neighbors are suffering under yokes of oppression and we are called to lift them from each other.
What a thing to do for each other! To turn to the people around you and take the oppressive burden of judgement from them. For who they are and what they do. To let them stand up straight.
And what do the people do at the end of the story?
“the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.”
They join with the woman, put their arms in the air and they praise GOD for what GOD is doing.
GOD doesn’t punish, GOD liberates!
They don’t drop down on their knees and worship Jesus as a faith healer. They know this isn’t a healing, but a liberation. GOD does that. They rejoice!
This is our Sabbath work! To liberate each other.
To remove the yokes of the oppressed. To save each other, not from a future hell, but a present slavery. Slavery to debt. To guilt. To anger. To fear. To hopelessness. To anxiety. To mental illness.
And let them know they are loved.
This is the sign of the wonders GOD is doing. This is how we love each other.
So when we pray in a minute, pray for the person sitting right next to you. To the ones around you. To the ones you only see on Sundays. To the ones you think about when they’re gone. To the ones who aren’t here and you’re thinking why aren’t they here today? To the ones who go to the other service and you never get to see. To all the people we serve. To the many, many more we hope to serve. Pray to all these people and lift the yoke of judgement. Lift the yoke anger and irritation. Lift the yoke of unmet expectation and disappointment. Lift the yoke of not-good-enough and need-to-do-more.
Lift that yoke in prayer.
And when we confess, confess all that hate and all that anger and all that desire to oppress and put that away because you are forgiven. Get rid of it from your heart so GOD can get rid of it from your soul.
And then we will share the peace with each other. A peace of reconciliation. A peace of coming together. A peace of hope and love. And when we do, if you’re up to it, hug. Go hug each other. If you can’t do that, I get it. I’m not going to bear hug you if you don’t want me to. But if you want it put your arms out.
Because love isn’t only given, its received. It isn’t only offered, but it needs to be felt. We need to feel lifted up. Because our great liberating GOD doesn’t just free us on the inside. GOD frees us to free each other.