|Posted by Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry on August 29, 2013 at 1:40 PM|
Imagine being painfully bent over for 18 years and never being able to look people in the eye. Imagine praying for 18 years that things would change. And then, when you had even given up hope, imagine that this man Jesus heals you and your back can straighten and stretch again. Imagine your joy and your relief.
And then imagine looking at a man in the synagogue who is objecting. Who is yelling at Jesus for letting you stand up. Not because it was bad, but because it was at the wrong time. It wasn’t in good order. It didn’t follow the rules and wasn’t the way things were supposed to happen.
I’ve got to say, I tend not to have a lot of patience for folks like that. Folks who feel that they always need to enforce the rules. Who complain when things are out of place. Well, I don’t have patience for them except when they’re me. Unless it’s a rule that I’ve decided really does matter. So, in the interest of being as kind to this man in the synagogue as I would want someone to be toward me, perhaps it’s worth hearing his side of the story.
This man objected to Jesus’ healing because it was done on the Sabbath. And that was a day reserved for rest, for worship. It was a day that God had commanded the people of Israel to treat differently. And the synagogue leader was in charge of making sure that the people remembered this. It was his job to call people back to the good gift of Sabbath, to uphold the regulations that said that no work could be done, so that people would rest. Even today, we know that sometimes we just have to be forced to rest, forced to take time for God in our weeks. The synagogue leader was just trying to do that for the people, to uphold God’s commandment and to make space for the people of Israel to love and honor God.
So the synagogue leader is angry that Jesus would blatantly disobey a law that is good and valuable. Why did Jesus insist on healing on the Sabbath? This woman had suffered for 18 years. A few hours couldn’t have made that much of a difference in the great scheme of things. In a few hours, Jesus could have healed this woman and everyone would have rejoiced.
So what was Jesus up to? It wasn’t like Jesus to be contrary for no reason. When he breaks the rules, it’s usually to teach us something important. And this morning, he’s trying to teach us what the Sabbath is meant to be. Sabbath was originally a gift to the people of Israel. It was a blessing of rest from their hard labor. It was a reminder that with the help of God, 6 days of work would be enough to provide all they needed. And the Sabbath was a time for the Israelites to look up from their work and simply delight in the goodness of God.
But then the leaders of Israel wanted to protect God’s good gift. They held God’s commandments in such esteem that they wanted to make sure that they interpreted them right. So they started to make laws about what you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath. Just the same way we do in the rest of our lives.
When neighborhoods are planned and laid out, we want to make sure that they stay places that are good to live in. We want to make sure they are safe and beautiful places for ourselves and our families. So, we start making rules about what we can be in our front yard and how early we can start mowing the lawn. We make up Property Owners Associations that are so full of rules that can cause so much frustration that sometimes we’re sorry we moved to that neighborhood in the first place.
And our governments have plenty of rules, too. When we give out assistance, we have rules about who is eligible and piles of paperwork applicants have to fill out. And sometimes the rules get so complicated that the very people the assistance is supposed to help are kept from getting what they need because of all the rules.
Rules and laws are good. They are supposed to help us live together. They are meant to give us boundaries to live within. Like the 10 Commandments, our laws are made to help us know the things that make for peace and to keep evil at bay. But they are never meant to be an end in themselves. God’s rules for us are made to be life-GIVING, not things to hold us in bondage. So when enforcing the laws get in the way of God’s healing and justice, then they have overstepped their bounds. If our laws don’t leave room for the freeing grace of God to surprise us, then they are missing the point.
And that’s what was happening in the synagogue. Jesus heals the woman on the Sabbath to announce that all the rules about the Sabbath have gotten in the way of the freeing power of God. Jesus is reminding the synagogue leaders that the Sabbath is not about rules, it’s not about making sure that no one lifts a finger. The Sabbath is about setting us free from our worry so that we can trust God to sustain us. It is what frees us to look up from our work so that we can simply delight in our God. So setting this woman free from her bondage is definitely Sabbath work. Setting people free is what Sabbath has always been about. And setting people free has always been what God has been about.
God set the people of Israel free when they were slaves in Egypt. God set them free from hunger by bringing them manna in the wilderness. And, time and time again, God set them free by forgiving them and blessing them when they returned to their God in repentance. Our God is a God who delights in setting people free. Even from the ways that we enslave ourselves.
So when laws, even God’s laws, become more about keeping people in bondage, rather than setting them free to praise God, then they’re not doing the work God intended of them. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath, he’s not just setting the woman free from 18 years of suffering. He’s also setting the leader of the synagogue free. He’s setting him free from his bondage to the rules so that he could see the grace of God break in. Jesus set him free to delight in God again, to enjoy God’s work of setting free.
And we still need this. So every week, we come to this place to celebrate the God who sets us free. Now, as Christians, we don’t celebrate the Sabbath. We don’t stop our all work like our Jewish brothers and sisters do to remember the day that God rested. But we still celebrate the God’s work of setting us free.
Instead, we come to worship on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, to celebrate the greatest of all “setting frees.” Every Sunday we come to celebrate the open tomb, Jesus’ triumph over death. We come to tell the story of God’s great setting free so that we can try again to believe it - that violence and sickness and even death are not stronger than God’s power to bring life. We come so that we can remember again this unbelievable word, so that we can lay down our worry and fear and shame and sadness and simply delight in the goodness of God.
And we come here because we need to remember and we need to be set free- over and over again, from all that tries to own us and take us over during the week. So we come to be set free from our busyness for a moment and let God be enough to sustain us. We come to this community to be set free from those sins and failures that plague us by hearing those words of forgiveness at the beginning of our service. Child of God, your sins are forgiven so that you may live your life standing up straight and praising God.
We come to hear the stories of God so we can learn who God is and what God intends for all creation. We come to hear about God setting free- from hunger. From fear. From grief. From violence. And from all those things that keep us from being who God has meant us to be. And we hear God’s promise to keep doing those things again for us and for our world.
And every Sunday, we come here to be set free from our worrying about if there will be enough by gathering around this table with our brothers and sisters. By opening our hands, feeling that bread and wine on our lips and seeing again how no one ever goes away hungry. By seeing a vision for how God intends our world will be and learning to trust that vision. And then, as we leave, we get to be set free from our selfishness by being sent out to do God’s work in the world, not our own.
Jesus comes to set us free from all that keeps us from loving and following God. He comes to heal us of those things that have bent us over, those things that hurt us and made us less than we are meant to be. He breaks through anything that keeps us bound, in any way he needs to, so that we can stand straight up with the healed woman. This is what Sabbath is about. And this is what our worship is about. Because this is what God is about- setting free. Freeing us to be a brilliant reflection of the God who loves us. Freeing us to delight in the goodness of God. Freeing us to follow God in the work of setting others free.