Gospel: Luke 13:10-17
Our gospel this morning has me thinking about rules. In this text we have another example of Jesus pushing boundaries and breaking the rules of his day. I’m thinking especially of a certain 5-year-old in my house who is starting to push boundaries, and of kids going back to school, maybe relearning the rules, or at least learning what rules will apply to their new classrooms.
Rules are important. We all know that. They are put in place to keep us safe, or to keep others safe. Living by them will often help our lives be more fulfilling and enjoyable, and they typically help the life of the community – of all of us living together – to thrive instead of just survive.
Now I imagine there are some of you who are saying to yourself – yeah, but rules were meant to be broken. Life isn’t worth living if you’re just following the rules. Yes, most of us have had the thrill of breaking a rule and getting away with it, and even Jesus’ actions today may hint that every now and then, rules need to be broken. I imagine we could agree that some rules are better for breaking than others. There are some rules – like don’t kill – that need to be kept in order for the good of all. And there are others that seem less vital, that can be more open to interpretation, or that aren’t quite so foundational.
The rule Jesus breaks today is about the Sabbath. In the 10 Commandments, we are to keep the Sabbath day holy. This rule harkens back to creation, where on the seventh day, God rested from all the work God had done in creation. In the Jewish tradition, following this rule means not doing any work on the Sabbath. The rule isn’t necessarily about physical exertion as much as it is about “constructive, creative effort, demonstrating humankind’s mastery over nature. Refraining from [these things on the Sabbath] signals [a] recognition that, despite our human creative abilities, God is the ultimate creator and master.” https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/95906/jewish/Melacha-A-Unique-Definition-of-Work.htm
It is acceptable to violate this command in order to save someone’s life, and maybe that’s what was at debate in our gospel text today. It could be that the synagogue leader did not think it was a matter of life or death for this bent woman to be made upright. We might have thought the same thing in that situation. Maybe even the woman thought the same thing – she’d been living with that condition for 18 years, what’s another day? And it’s at least worth pointing out that she doesn’t ask Jesus to heal her. But for some reason, Jesus saw hers as a situation worth breaking the Sabbath law over. For him, her life was in danger and needed to be saved.
It’s true that by raising her up, Jesus restored her to the community. Her healing was not just physical, it was social as well. The people would now see her. Where before they would probably just stare at her, the way we sometimes do to people that are different from us, now they would see her and respect her. Instead of pity, she would have dignity. But again, she didn’t ask for this healing, so it would be reaching for us to say that everyone different from us needs to be made like us in order to be well. It could be that those of us who stare, especially at people with disabilities or who are differently-abled or who have physical, mental, or emotional abnormalities, we who stare are the ones that need healing to see all people as having dignity and to show them respect as we would anyone else.
For some reason, it was important to Jesus that this woman be healed on the Sabbath. He breaks the rules, or at least challenges them. Keeping the Sabbath must have been important to Jesus. And yet keeping Sabbath requires a delicate balance between rest and work, especially the work we are called to in our baptisms – the healing work of Jesus in the gospel today, and the work articulated in Jeremiah today of building and planting, even overthrowing and pulling down. There is a sense of justice in this work, and in our Affirmation of Baptism – the service we do for receiving new members and the service for our 9th graders who will be confirmed, or affirm their baptism – one of the promises we make is to strive for justice and peace in all the earth. A colleague wondered about Sabbath, and God’s resting at creation, that in order to have true Sabbath, we must be able to call everything good the way God did; and if we can’t call everything good yet, then there is still work to do, even on the Sabbath, until that happens. Keeping Sabbath brings about a tension between rest and this important baptismal work.
Jesus’ Sabbath work was to help the woman know that she is good, and that’s what I want for us today. To know that who you are is good. Yes, I also want to challenge you in taking a restful Sabbath, and in working for justice and peace in all the earth, but most of all to know that no matter what day of the week it is, you are loved by God just as you are, with all of your abnormalities, all of your brokenness, your bentness, with all of the places in your life that need healing. You are loved by God and God wants you to be restored and healed and know that you are part of this community, part of the body of Christ. You have been created good, and you are invited to live in that goodness, the goodness of God, and to share that goodness with all of creation. I invite you this week to take a Sabbath moment. I know it’s hard to imagine taking a whole day of rest, so just start with a moment, where you can rest in the goodness of God and be reminded of who you are. No matter what, you will always be God’s child. However far you think you’ve strayed, however broken you think you are, God is always welcoming you back, calling you back to yourself as part of God’s good creation. Let’s live in that goodness today, and get to work sharing it with the world. It’s a message the whole world needs to hear.