First Reading Isaiah 58:9b-14
Third Isaiah spells out to the people how following God’s ways – denouncing oppression, speaking the truth, feeding the hungry, caring for the suffering, and worshipping God – will result in a wonderful quality of life.
Second Reading Hebrews 12:18-29
The writer describes God as a “consuming fire” which cannot be touched and which terrified the ancient Israelites. But Christians are invited to the holy city where God is judge and is safely mediated through Jesus who brings a new covenant.
Third Reading Luke 13:10-17
Jesus breaks the rules of the Sabbath by healing a woman who had been crippled for years. This enraged the synagogue leader but Jesus silenced the crowd by comparing their treatment of human beings with their treatment of their animals.
HOMILY “When he laid his hands upon her, immediately she stood up straight.”
Are you good at asking for help? No? Really, you surprise me! Many of us like to be self-sufficient and self-reliant, don’t we? We don’t like to think that we can’t do things for ourselves and the thought of someone else having to provide for our basic needs is scary. It’s interesting having a toddler in the Vicarage household. On the one hand she likes to think she is able to do anything, from climbing the highest mountain or piece of furniture, to swimming the seas or, in her case, a paddling pool. She thinks she is invincible and often realizes, usually with a bump, that she can’t quite do everything she would like. Sometimes our human frailty lets us down; this can be some form of disability or sickness, or just our own willingness to have a go or trust.
When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue one Sabbath, the Sabbath being the time of rest in Judaism, he spotted a crippled woman who was nearly bent in two. The woman did not ask for help, nor did anyone else request help for her, but our Lord laid his hands on her anyway. Immediately she stood up straight and tall as Jesus set her free from her ailment but, for some reason, this simple and kindly act angered the leader of the synagogue. He complained not to Jesus himself but appealed to the crowd, naming Jesus’ actions as “healing” and therefore “work”. Why was he so angry? And why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath when he could quite easily have made an appointment to visit the woman after the Sabbath? Perhaps the synagogue leader was angry that the woman interrupted the formal worship with spontaneous praise of her own. Or perhaps he was aware that Jesus was challenging the structures of organised religion.
Jesus constantly turned the cultural wisdom of the day on its head by acting in unexpected ways and ignoring petty rules. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus challenges the narrow view of the Sabbath on five occasions, healing on the Sabbath four times and allowing his disciples to pluck grain on the other occasion. The story of the crippled woman is unique to Luke’s Gospel and characteristic of him. Luke’s perspective on faith is challenging and inspiring; he suggests Jesus supports the poor, the outcast, the sick and women – yes, a counter cultural perspective on relationships that turns the old order upside down. Luke’s Jesus recognizes all people as equal before God and loved. In this story, after he has healed her, our Lord refers to the woman as “a daughter of Abraham” which in a Jewish context for the time was striking. Perhaps he is contrasting her lowly status prior to God’s touch on her life with her confident and upright status after God’s healing? For Jesus not only makes explicit her full membership of Jewish society (the term “Daughter of Abraham”) but also makes it clear that God’s kingdom is open to all, even to women and those who are sick. Likewise today, God’s kingdom is open to all because Jesus has taught us so and we seek to build up and realize God’s kingdom in our midst. Not everyone wants God’s liberating inclusivity. So, in his response to the synagogue leader’s criticism, Jesus uses the same word to describe his actions in setting the woman free as he uses over the suggestion that many Jews untied their animals on the Sabbath. The woman was “tied” in her ailment, just as animals are tied. Was the synagogue leader really saying that it was all right to untie animals on the Sabbath but not all right to untie human beings?
The leader had no response to this self-evident truth and turned away, shamed but the crowd was delighted! And so should we be! Jesus was clearly on the side of inclusivity and helped people, especially the marginalized, to stand up straight, even in the face of opposition. Once again, context is important here. In first-century Judaism sickness was often regarded as God’s punishment for sin. Today, as people of faith with an inclusive Gospel to proclaim, such ideas are polar opposites to inclusivity and lead us to exclude the very people God is desperate for us to welcome into his kingdom. We can’t and won’t make the church bigger and stronger by excluding anyone. Just a few years ago that could have been me and I am so thankful for St Mary’s inclusivity, love and support.
In today’s Gospel Jesus neither affirms nor denies a connection with sin but he does release the woman from “Satan’s bondage”, so there may have been an element of forgiveness in his touch and, let us be honest, we all need that. Every time we gather for the Eucharist, we spend time in penitence, remembering our human frailty and seeking God’s healing presence. We also have a time every month for healing and wholeness, when we pray with one another that Jesus’ very presence may touch those places in our daily lives where we are less than whole in some way. Only we can truly know where these places are in our lives and only Jesus can truly bring healing; the only name in all creation given for complete healing and wholeness of body, mind and spirit. Just have a think for a moment; what are the places in your life that you need real healing, the touch of Jesus? The truth is that we are all crippled today by debt, addictions, sickness, vulnerability, frailty, meanness of heart, judgement, by other people, by our own emotions, fear, insecurity, a lack of confidence, our own needs and by greed – and much more also. Yet, my friends, Jesus is still here, waiting to touch us, to free us from bondage, to heal us and to make us whole.
In the Eucharist Jesus meets with us and offers his very presence for healing, and how blessed we are by that. Just as when he laid his hands on the woman, immediately she stood up straight. When we encounter his presence here in Word and sacrament, when we open our hearts in confession and recognize our frailty, our Lord lays his hands on us and we too can stand up straight – in faith! We merely have to trust him and allow him to be at the centre of who we are. Jesus is God’s very healing presence in the world and through the Church. How blessed we are to be called to be a part of his kingdom. Amen.
1. At various times in our life we may be broken in some way or judged. We may try to do something beyond our ability, or we may be held back by others. We are enabled to stand up straight through God’s touch and the support of our church family.
2. Jesus freed a crippled woman on the Sabbath in the synagogue. She immediately stood up straight.
3. The synagogue leader was angry because Jesus challenged the prevailing narrow vision of the Sabbath, thus challenging religious authority.
4. Jesus makes it clear that God’s kingdom is open to all, even women and the sick.
5. We are often crippled today but God’s touch can enable us to stand up straight.