Hebrews 12.18-29; Psalm 103.1-8; Luke 13.10-17
Just for a moment, imagine yourself as a toddler, maybe an inquisitive toddler. You are strapped into a pushchair, in a crowded space, perhaps in a lift; it’s full of tall people who must seem like giants. How do you feel? What can you see? Not very much; maybe just legs and feet. So I wonder what view of her surroundings that unnamed woman in our story had. Maybe just her own feet and the ground in front of her. She probably couldn’t see what was happening and who was speaking to her. ‘You are set free,’ Jesus said to her. Suddenly a whole new world was opened up to her as she stood up straight. She began to praise God; and she continued praising God because her life had been radically transformed. I wonder if she used the words of today’s psalm; she would have known them. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all my being bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.
Jesus was doing what he was sent to do. We heard it earlier in this gospel, when Jesus read from the prophecy of Isaiah in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free”. Then he announced that this prophecy had been fulfilled in him. Just imagine the reaction to that statement!
But Jesus’ action didn’t go down well with the leader of the synagogue. Let’s look at what’s happening here. It was the leader’s duty to uphold the Law. He offered a clear reminder of the requirements of the Law. Jesus had healed this woman on the sabbath, and in his understanding of the Law that counted as work, which was forbidden. The sabbath was a day for rest and renewal; it was precious and had to be observed. And if exceptions were made, well potentially that was the thin end of the wedge. And he kept making this point to the crowd. He believed he was right. And I guess we all have things which we believe are right and feel the need to take a stand on.
But Jesus, referred to here as the Lord, spoke with authority. He countered this accusation with a very Jewish argument. If it was permissible (and it was) to take animals to a source of water on the sabbath, then surely it was permissible to set this woman free from her affliction on the sabbath. He wasn’t breaking the Law; he was interpreting it in a more compassionate way.
This story is not primarily about the healing of a differently abled woman, though that is important. Maybe this unnamed woman represents all of us, with our limited perspective and interpretation of the accepted norms of society. Maybe we are that woman. Maybe we are like the leader of the synagogue.
What does this story of a healing on the Sabbath tell us about God? It tells us good news
- that the Law was given by God out of love to free us from tyranny whether that is self-inflicted or inflicted on us by others.
- that God forgives us when we get it wrong and offers us the chance to try again
- that the Law does not have the last word. There is always room for exceptions when compassion and love are needed.
This is about setting people free – phrase that Jesus uses twice in this short reading. That phrase would have reminded those present how God set the people free from captivity in Egypt.
Let’s look at what Jesus actually did on the occasion. First, he noticed the woman’s need. She did not approach him with a request for healing. It was far more likely that she had slipped in at the back of the synagogue, not wanting to cause a fuss. He took action. Grace was at work here, a gift which was freely given. He showed mercy and compassion. He wasn’t breaking the Law; he was interpreting it a more generous way. That is what the kingdom of God is about. So it was a joy yesterday that All Saints as an inclusive church joined the Wycombe Pride march to show that God’s love includes everyone regardless of their sexuality or gender. And the 150 cup-cakes we gave away went down well too! Thanks to those who made them.
Who needs setting free today? All of us! First, we need to ask ourselves what do I need to be set free from, and trust that the Holy Spirit will give us a whole new perspective on our life and will transform us into people who praise God for all the blessings we receive. Then we may be able to notice those who are overlooked in our society today, those who are struggling, those who are persecuted for their beliefs or their sexuality, those who suffer injustice from those in authority. I’m sure between us we could make a very long list.
Let us pray that as followers of Jesus, we notice those in need and take action.
The Revd Jackie Lock, Associate Priest