This morning, I want to continue to build off this idea that following Jesus isn’t about avoiding something, it’s not about some checklist of things that we can and can’t do and if you don’t follow it, God won’t love you but rather it’s about becoming something; it’s about allowing God to do something within you that transforms you into something that is beautiful.
And we’re going to see this through an interaction that took between Jesus and a woman who, perhaps like some of us, was unable to see herself the way Jesus saw her; a beautiful child of God.
Let’s listen to our text: READ Luke 13:10-17.
Jesus is invited to be the guest speaker in a Jewish synagogue; the place where people would gather together on the Sabbath to worship, to pray, to hear teaching from scripture and lift their voice in song.
It’s probably not a very big congregation, much like ours with maybe a few dozen people.
And as he’s teaching, he looks out and he sees off in the shadows a woman that’s hunched over, stooping at the waist and she’s unable to raise herself up.
But it’s more than just a sore back because the word used to describe the problem suggests that she is not in any sense – physically, spiritually, psychologically, emotionally – able to raise herself up.
You see, we are spirit and body and sometimes our physical suffering is exclusively physical; sports injuries or just getting older and things don’t work like they used to . . . but other times it’s a spiritual cause that results in physical complications. That’s what’s going on here.
This woman has been enslaved and bound by the chains of a spiritual affliction for 18 years and as a result her body is broken. It has worn her down. She hasn’t jumped, or ran, or danced, or stood upright, or looking anyone in the eye for 18 long years.
And she’s the kind of person that people tend not to see because it’s just easier that way . . . out of sight, out of mind . . . but on this day, Jesus saw her.
And it’s amazing because typically women weren’t allowed to worship in the same space as men and would be quarantined to the back. But Jesus has this way of seeing things that we don’t see or choose not to see. He has an amazing way to see beauty in the things we so easily discard.
And when he sees this crippled, bent over woman in the mix of women in the back of the synagogue, he stopped what he was doing, and he called to her.
My guess is that at first she was uncomfortable . . . what’s he gonna say? What’s he gonna do? Is he going to rebuke her for lack of faith or tell her in front of all of these people that it’s her fault? And that it’s God’s punishment for not being the kind of person she’s supposed to be?
She doesn’t need another person beating her up about her condition . . . she does that pretty well on her own.
But Jesus doesn’t condemn her or embarrass her, he simply approaches her and he lays his hands on her and just gives her a big hug and he says, “You are released from your disability . . . you have been set free from the chains that have bound you.”
And in that instant, her whole life is changed. Immediately, the woman stood up straight and she was able to look right into the eyes of Jesus, this man who had been able to do for her what no doctor or medication had ever been able to do.
So what does she do? She breaks out in worship. “Bring the band back out. I haven’t been able to sing wholeheartedly for a while. And it’s been eighteen years since I danced . . . It’s time for a party”
And the church gets pumped up and they’re singing and praising God because of what Jesus has done.
What an amazing story this would be if it ended right there with everyone singing and praising God but it doesn’t because there’s one person in the room who is not happy about this at all . . . in fact, he’s kind of ticked off that Jesus would come into his church and cause such a controversy.
You see, it wasn’t appropriate to heal someone on the Sabbath; especially a woman. Sabbath is a day of rest and there were very strict rules about the kind of things you could and couldn’t do on the Sabbath.
Of course, obvious forms of work were forbidden like plowing, hunting, and butchering. But there were also some surprising laws . . .
- tying or loosening knots,
- sewing more than one stitch,
- setting a dislocated foot or hand,
- or even repairing a fallen roof
And although there were very strict rules . . . there were exceptions to the rules
- While the law stipulated that you couldn’t carry anything, what it meant is that you couldn’t carry anything with your palms up but you could carry something on the back of your hands, or under your arm, or the fold of your shirt, or the cuff of your pants.
- If you cut your arm, you could put a bandage on it but you could not apply any ointment because that would be working on the Sabbath.
Do you see how complicated life had become? All these rules, all these exceptions and only the local Rabbi knew for sure what was forbidden, and what was allowed . . . making it even more complicated.
Now, for the religious guys . . . keeping the Sabbath according to the rules was a sign of loyalty – to God, to Israel and to national hopes of liberation. You see they were convinced that what they did determined God’s movement so following the checklist was incredibly important.
And so, they were watchful for anything that ignored or trivialized the Sabbath because they posed a threat to their hopes for liberation and the coming kingdom of God.
So, when Jesus saw a woman who had suffered for 18 years and he healed her on the Sabbath the Rabbi was indignant because he was breaking the rules.
If we start healing people on the Sabbath . . . then pretty soon pharmacies will be open on the Sabbath and supermarkets and hardware stores and car dealership and we just can’t have that. It would be complete anarchy and God could never forgive us for that.
And so, to sway public opinion and effectively stop this party and re-establish his authority in the church he says to the crowd, “You know we’re not supposed to do stuff like that on the Sabbath. Don’t think that we’re gonna start healing on the Sabbath; Friday or Sunday but definitely not on Saturday.”
And in his response he alludes to Deut. 5:13 which says, “For 6 days you shall labor and do all your work”. He argues from scripture . . . a good thing to do . . . but he makes a slight editorial addition to the text in order to intensify his point. He says, “There are 6 days in which it is necessary to work”.
He not only asserts scripture but also his asserts his “authority” to interpret the will of God.
But before anyone doubts for a second who has the real authority here, Jesus responds
“Ok, you want to talk scripture . . . then let’s open up our bibles together and keep reading the text you so eloquently quoted to make your point because the very next verse says, not only are people not to work on the Sabbath, but neither is anyone or anything else including your cows and donkeys.”
You see, the religious guys had made a few exceptions to God’s word about resting on the Sabbath . . . because you know, God wasn’t real clear about what it meant “to rest” or “not to work” . . . and one of those exceptions is that you are allowed to give water to a cow or donkey on the Sabbath; provided that their halter could be removed with one hand, and that the water be on the owner’s side of the fence.
So really, God is very lucky to have these religious guys around to help fill in those gaps.
But Jesus says, “You hypocrite” . . . one of his favorite descriptors for religious people because they like to look good on the outside and impress everyone with their knowledge of the law but their hearts are in the wrong place . . . and Jesus is calling him out and he says:
“You hypocrite . . . this woman is far more important than your animals because she is a daughter of Abraham . . . heir to the same promise of Abraham; that she will be blessed and inherit the Kingdom of God. And yet the animals are given more freedom than her.
This woman has been held captive for 18 years . . . what better time for a daughter of Abraham to be released from the grip of bondage than the Sabbath!”
You want to quote scripture, than let’s keep going because the very next verse says, “the very reason for the institution of the Sabbath is to celebrate freedom from slavery.”
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the LORD your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day.”
Jesus has taken the religious leader’s argument, and the same scriptural source, and he says if you’re going to attempt to interpret the will of God, and get it wrong and in so hijack the spirit of God’s law than I’m going to re-interpret it and get it right because I am the author of that book!
And his message is clear, “If the Sabbath is about freedom, as this passage from Deuteronomy clearly says, then it is entirely proper to celebrate the freedom of this woman from spiritual bondage . . . especially on the Sabbath. “
Give credit to the crowd. They recognize all of this. And it says that “they broke out once again in rejoicing all the glorious things coming into being because of him”; his healing action, advocacy for the woman, and re-interpreting the meaning of Sabbath – which honestly had held them captive because of all the rules and exceptions. It had become a check list of things to do and if they didn’t do it right, it brought another layer of bondage . . . called guilt.
You see, what Jesus did on this day not only freed the woman from her spiritual and physical bondage but it also freed everyone from bondage of the law which had been so skewed by the religious leaders.
This morning, we are gathered here trying to figure out what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
And some of you have been told that it’s about following a bunch of rules and that God has a watchful eye on you, so you had better not mess up and if you do, God’s gonna get you.
So, you carry around this burden called guilt and it’s weighing you down and bending you over like this woman. And honestly, it’s drawing you farther away from God and His church.
But Jesus wants to do for you, what he has done for this woman and for the Sabbath; He wants to offer restoration and wholeness.
God wants us to grow in rest, and love, and relationship with him and his people. And he gives to us, as a gift, Sabbath; a day to stop working, and just rest in the finished work of Jesus.
This is what it means to be a follower of Jesus . . . It’s not about avoiding something, it’s not about a checklist of things that we can and can’t do, it’s about allowing God to transform us into something that is beautiful.
And today, we meet Jesus at the altar. This morning, he sees you and he sees me and through the bread and wine; His own body broken and blood poured out for us, he again offers healing and restoration and wholeness. And He’s calling you to draw closer to Him.
And as we come forward, Jesus speaks to us, “Stand up straight . . . you are healed . . . you are set free”. This restoration may not happen all at once like it did for this woman . . . but Jesus gives to you a community of other broken people to walk with you, pray with you, and stand up straight next to you.