There is a line from Hemingway’s “A Farewell To Arms” that I have often used when speaking to individuals or families that were undergoing a traumatic experience. “ Life breaks all of us, but some get strong at the broken places.”
Many times in life we suffer from poor decisions we have made, and when we do we have to learn to live with the consequences. There are those things, however, that happen to us that are due to no fault of our own. In the case of misfortune we call it bad luck, or simply an accident. In the case of a physical infirmity or disease we say it is hereditary, its in the genes, and we write it off to family history.
In the time of Jesus, the world believed that one like the woman in today’s gospel was bound by Satan by no fault of her own. Throughout the gospels the work of Satan stands in conflict with God’s work of Salvation. Thus God loved the world so much that He sent His Only Son Jesus to bring Salvation, freedom, and redemption to all who would accept Him as the One sent by God.
In today’s gospel Jesus is teaching in one of the local synagogues on the Sabbath and notices the woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. Obviously she was well known by the locals and someone told him of her lengthy plight. She was bent over and quite unable to stand up straight. Jesus immediately had compassion on her.
He calls her over, and notice that he pronounces her free of her ailment even before he laid his hands on her. When he does touch her she immediately stood up straight and began praising God. The word of God and the touch of God healed her in the sight of all.
The synagogue leader, however, was not impressed, as a matter of fact, he was indignant, Luke reports, and tried to bring Jesus down in the eyes of the crowd because he had healed on the Sabbath. Citing the Law of Moses, (Deut 5.14) which strictly prohibited “work” on the Sabbath, he chided Jesus for what he had done.
What if Jesus had simply walked away and not responded as he did? How would the crowd have reacted then? Would they have seen Jesus as being in the wrong for having healed the woman? I wonder?
In first century Palestine the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees defined “work” to include healing. Thus the synagogue leader condemned Jesus for healing the woman on the Sabbath. But it was Jesus’ response that shed a poor light on the one who condemned him and in turn brought rejoicing from the crowd “for all the wonderful things he was doing.”
“Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”
Jesus’ actions speak to the fact that what better time than the Sabbath to be doing the work of God, declaring the message of repentance, and offering God’s Salvation. What Jesus did for the woman in the synagogue he longs to do for Israel and for us.
But God’s people, for the most part, do not get it. Again and again he runs into resistance of one kind or another that blocks God’s saving action. In this case, it is a strict adherence to the law, or at least, their interpretation of it that attempts to prevent God’s grace.
How do we block God’s grace? Let me count the ways. Last week’s gospel was an example of their’s and our misinterpreting the kingdom message. Many times our expectations of God are skewed. We pray, for example, for guidance, and say that we never hear from God, when many a time we have already decided what we are going to do in that situation before we pray and are merely looking for confirmation.
We block God’s grace when we refuse to cooperate with God’s Holy Spirit. And that non-cooperation takes many forms, not the least of which is the quenching of the Spirit by placing self and self interests before all else, including our duty towards God. Religious legalism, like that shown in today’s gospel, blocks God’s grace as well. Unfortunately first century Judaism does not have a lock on that.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day believed that they served God by zealously keeping these peripheral traditions, but their legalism made them insensitive to God’s mercy. As far as the synagogue leader was concerned, the woman could have waited until the next day to be healed.
But thankfully, God’s grace doesn’t wait! God’s love never ends. God’s forgiveness is always there for the asking. Salvation has come to all through the life, death, and resurrection of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. Humanity is “lifted up” by faith in Christ, who fulfills both law and grace.
It is not God’s desire that any of us be bound up by life. Yet we bind ourselves and we bind others by our words and actions; by things done and left undone. But if we “remove the yoke from among us,” as the prophet Isaiah says, in today’s first lesson, by turning from evil, from pointing fingers and from only thinking of self to meet the needs of others, then the grace of God will flow into our lives enabling us to live the life God intends for us to live; a life of compassion, mercy, love and faith.
The Church should never be in an attitude of mere resignation to human misery and suffering. But always in a mode of active hostility to it. It is our role as Christians; as followers of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, to do the work he has given us to do in cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit. This same Spirit Christ gave as a first gift to all those who believe in Him, to complete His work in the world and to bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.
To do the work Christ has given us to do in cooperation with the leading and guidance of the Holy Spirit will always put the Lord’s adversaries to shame. In turn such “work” will elicit unending praise to the Glory of God from all who truly love Him, and who rejoice in all the wonderful things that He has done and continues to do, not the least of which is His having made us worthy to stand before him. Amen+