Prepare to be Unbound
We meet a woman in today’s Lucan gospel reading who has been bound for 18 years by an ailment.
She is literally bent over. Her view is mostly her feet and the ground in front of them.
She is a faithful Jewish woman who seemingly makes her way to the synagogue to observe the Sabbath.
Jesus is there. He too is a faithful Jew, observing the Sabbath and also teaching.
By now Jesus is well known. Luke tells us he has already set his face for Jerusalem. Opposition by the religious leaders had been growing for some time.
We can imagine that if he is teaching he is probably saying things that are not conventional. As on other occasions, his teaching may be challenging and stretching to his listeners, certainly those in charge of the status quo – especially the religious status quo.
However, it is not to be against the conventional but rather to get to the heart of the religious matter, so to speak.
The Sabbath is rooted in two primary God events – creation and redemption (delivery from slavery in Egypt.)
God rested on the Sabbath after having created everything and seeing it was good and indeed very good.
Sabbath has to do with delighting in creation.
Unfortunately, around the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, set aside to be grateful to the creator and mindful of and delightful in creation, the religious authorities had over the course of time added 613 new laws or rules to govern work and activity on the Sabbath. The idea was to put a fence around the primary law with so many other laws that there was no chance of breaking the essential and the forbidden to break commandment.
Instead of the Sabbath rooted in creation and deliverance, in delight and gratitude, it was a day of fear and anxious observance or obligation.
It is possible that Jesus was saying something about the true intention of the Sabbath in his teaching and how instead of a blessing it had become a burden.
He may have already upset the religious leader of the synagogue before the healing of the woman took place.
But let’s look more closely at these two major aspects of the Sabbath.
First, Creation and delighting in it. There is a noticeable difference in Israel on the Sabbath. Things do come to a standstill. Work stops. The streets are empty. (Picture)
There is a lack of commercialization and activity such that you can feel a different quality to the day – it is holy, it is set aside and belongs to the creator. We can breathe and take our time. Take a moment and spell the roses.
Sabbath observance taught AB Heschel to have a profound sense of creation. He wrote:
Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. ….get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
We can delight in it.
Heschel said: The primary purpose of prayer is not to make requests. The primary purpose is to praise, to sing, to chant. Because the essence of prayer is a song, and man cannot live without a song.
So here is my question – is our own religious observance allowing us to delight in creation? On Sundays, is our worship connecting us to this original and primary intention of the Sabbath? Do we have a sense of Awe and Wonder in our own existence and the world around us?
If yes, great. If only occasionally, then how might we increase it?
God rested on the Sabbath. God delighted in all God had made.
The second great association of the Sabbath is with that of deliverance or redemption – specifically the freeing of the Hebrew people from bondage in Egypt.
The Sabbath recalls deliverance and redemption.
Jesus is teaching and he notices a woman bent over. He sees a woman in bondage. (Picture)
He called her over to him and said, ‘Woman you are set free from your ailment.’ He then laid his hands on her and she immediately stood up straight and praised God.
When you get to my age bending down to do some gardening even for few minutes is associated with great relief when I stand back up. Imagine this woman’s suffering. Imagine her indescribable relief when able to straighten up. Her response is not only appropriate to the miracle that has happened to her and her presence in the house of God, it is natural. Her very bones and muscles cried out in praise.
Freed from her ailment, delivered from her years of bondage, she delighted!!
Jesus the Incarnate God restores to the Sabbath delight and deliverance.
It is not man made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath made for mankind.
So my second question, do we experience a sense of redemption and deliverance, a freeing from bondage, on Sundays so that we are raised up so to praise and delight in our creator and our creation?
If so, great. If not, how might we increase that?
Now, I don’t want us to lose sight of those two essential aspects of the Sabbath.
But there is more here.
I don’t want to focus on the opposition to Jesus so much as on religion losing its way and how a woman in bondage can be tolerated even in the House of God and even on the Sabbath.
The prophets and Jesus especially often criticized their faith tradition for adding burdens to people’s lives rather than lifting them.
Look again at this woman in the picture. Look at the synagogue and religious leaders. It is all dignified. What is missing are the essential elements of the Sabbath. The delight in creation and the experience of deliverance or redemption are not there. The woman is the critical reminder that things are not as they should be.
For the religious leaders they are helpless to do anything about it and also their theology may blame the woman anyways. Her sin has put her in this condition.
For Jesus, there is no real Sabbath without delight and deliverance. By healing the woman, both are achieved. She is free and she breaks forth in song.
That is Sabbath! And all of that is still possible for us. In Christ, we are set free from sin and death. The chains have been broken. We are no longer weighted down.
Reminds me of the African-American spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last!’
When thinking of a mission statement for our own individual Christian life and for St. Martin’s, might today’s Gospel offer us one?
What if our mission was to help ourselves and others to delight in creation, to be filled with awe and wonder, and to delight in all that is? And what if our mission was about deliverance from bondage, freeing people up, so that they can break into song?
Our patron saint surely is a great example of the latter. Sometimes it is the little kindnesses that raise people up and let them sing.
But there are also some people here and further afield that are held captive by things and circumstances that with our engagement could experience relief and deliverance.
Some are kept down by religion. Christianity included. Some regions of the world like the Middle East are kept down by religion. You have six days to heal, don’t heal on the Sabbath! You hypocrites!! Our Lord said. Does religion free or imprisoned?
Jesus the man was not afraid to confront what ails us. It had to have taken courage and remarkable faith to step out and take on the condition of this crippled woman in front of him.
But look what happened when he did!!!
What a day at the synagogue!! What a day at church. Deliverance and delight!
My friends, we can make this world a better place and we can delight in it!!
We can face all that is, the bad as well as the good, the broken as well as the whole, the night as well as the day, death as well as birth. Why? Because we are in Christ, the God-Man, who defeated sin and death, giving us an eternal dwelling place and an everlasting song.
We need to feel it in our bones. Freedom, healing, delight.
Remember that there is meaning beyond absurdity. Know that every deed counts, that every word is power…Above all, remember that you must build your life as if it were a work of art.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
There is a need to be unbound. To be freed up and to break forth into song. That is Sabbath. That is Sunday! That is mission!