Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Introduction and Call to Worship
We gather from our different backgrounds and circumstances, some of us strong in faith and some holding on by our fingertips. God knows and understands each one of us, and calls us all to new life.
First Reading Isaiah 58:9b-end
Isaiah speaks of future hope – the rebuilding of what is destroyed and the nourishing of land that is parched – linked to a command to live justly, humbly and mercifully.
Second Reading Hebrews 12:18-29
God is a consuming fire – we are right to be terrified, but through the grace that is ours through Christ we can come safely to God, taking our place in the heavenly city.
Gospel Luke 13:10-17
On the Sabbath, in the synagogue, Jesus heals a woman from an ailment that has afflicted her for eighteen years. The crowds are delighted; the religious leaders are angered.
HOMILY “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” (Luke 13:12)
All sorts of things can weigh us down, get on top of us, cause us to worry. Health of course is one of the greatest causes for concern. Our health is to be treasured and life is a gift. We all know that to keep healthy is important but often it is not until our health deteriorates that we really take seriously the need to be healthy as the current debate about a sugar tax demonstrates. Our athletes in Rio are an example of dedication and also health!
A lady found she had lost quite a lot of weight over a few years and she decided to go through her wardrobe and draws and give to the charity shops all the things that were too large. She got to a pair of very large looking knickers and held them up. “Goodness,” she said, “I wore these when I was 150!” Her granddaughter shrieked, “150 what Grandma?” “150 is the size my child, replied the Grandma. The granddaughter smiled, looking somewhat relieved, “Oh, that’s alright grandma, I thought you were only 120 years old!”
Age is another of those things that can weigh us down and as we get older health and age come together to present us with all sorts of challenges. The people who encountered our Lord while he was about Judea preaching and teaching may not have lived as long as some of us will, but none the less they had many concerns and health was certainly one of them. And Jesus understands that they are weighed down by their worries.
Having said that, the woman in today’s Gospel reading makes no demands on Jesus or anyone else for that matter. There is no sense that she had any expectation that her life might change. We are not told her name; actually she has become known as “the woman bent double” – bowed down so heavily by her life that she is quite unable to stand up straight. Her bodily appearance speaks of the many burdens she carries. She is there in the synagogue, as tradition requires, to worship on God the Sabbath day. As it happens, Jesus is also in the synagogue to worship, and he notices her and calls her over to him. Our Lord speaks words we all long to hear, words of life and healing. These words of life set her free from all that has bound her hitherto and her organic response is to praise God. Luke, in this case the Gospel writer, wonderful paints a visual picture of this woman standing straight for the first time in nearly two decades, stretching tall! In response to the words of healing that our Lord speaks her whole body worships the creator who made her. She was weighed down, but our Lord’s words of healing have liberated her to be the person God has called her to be. Remember the words Jesus poke in the Synagogue earlier, echoing the prophet Isaiah: “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, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Luke 4: 18-20) Jesus fulfils these words in action.
Like so often, others are not impressed and the tension in the synagogue is palpable. Not everyone in life wants us to hear the words of Jesus spoken in our ears, words of healing and salvation. Sadly, today just as then, many wish to obstruct the work of the Lord who comes to bring life in all its fullness and reconciles the faithful with healing and new life. Our hope must be that the woman in the Synagogue was blissfully unaware of their negativity, rather that she was full of the joy of God’s healing in her life. The same hope must be for each of us today.
Of course this all takes place on the Sabbath day so for those leaders of the time more concerned with following a set of man-made rules than seeing healing and salvation, this was an act that enraged them. Jesus was doing God’s work on the day of rest – how dare he! They are, as it were so trapped in routine that they cannot see the miracle that is happening in their midst as the glory of God is among them! All they have been waiting for, the Lord himself is there, right in front of them! But no, they ignore God’s presence and keep on with the same old things. This makes Jesus so very angry and he perceives them to be hypocrites. The would take a donkey to water on the Sabbath, so of how much more value is this woman, a daughter of Abraham, a member of their family of faith? And yet they would keep her bound, and try to prevent the Lord from setting her free. The onlookers and casual bystanders are not schooled in the ways of God, and rejoice with Jesus at the wonders of healing; and so they should, and we should join with them! But the religious leaders think they are well schooled in the ways of God and are furious because they cannot control his boundless mercy.
Where would we be on that Sabbath day in the synagogue? In need to healing? A bystander? A disciple? Or one of the religious leader’s intent on keeping things ‘just so, as we like them?’ Luke’s telling of this event may both judge and console us. Most of us are only too ready to set limits against other people when they do not quite fit with our sense of how things should be. Noisy children in Church? Interruptions when on the train? Or much worse… the refugee who is powerless to help themselves? Yet when we deeply desire God to act and bring healing everything is different and our priorities change.
My friends in faith, Jesus notices the distress of a woman who makes no demand and reaches out to heal her. Such mercy, such compassion, such love, such absolute understanding is at the very heart of God and we see it clearly in a woman who stands up straight after years of pain. She is thankful for all that the Lord has done and praises God! Likewise, God longs to do the same for us, but we must be willing to move beyond the everyday and comfortable and make space for the Lord of all life to act. We start with prayer and our regular worship here, bringing all that we are into the presence of the Lord who longs to make us whole and renew our very lives. For God longs to liberate us from all that weighs heavily upon us. Amen.
The “woman bent double” has no expectation that Jesus will notice her. Jesus not only notices her, but heals her from her condition. Because it is the Sabbath, the religious leaders consider him to have broken the Law.
We need to know when to uphold tradition and when to let it go for something greater.
This passage reveals the depth of mercy and compassion that are at the heart of God. For God longs to liberate us from all that weighs heavily upon us.