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Our gospel this morning – is one of six times in Luke’s account of Jesus’ life that Jesus “does” something on the Sabbath – something classified by the rigidly religious as “work.” So a natural question is – why does Jesus go out of his way to break rules – to stir up conflict – on a holy day – in the middle of a worshipping community? Important question since that’s exactly who we are, right now, yes?
One reason may be an encouragement for us to see with the eyes of God. You can probably recall the gospel story when Jesus goes to the house of some religious leaders and a woman is at his feet – crying and bathing his feet with her tears. Everyone is made anxious and uncomfortable and judgmental at this display so Jesus calls over his disciple Simon Peter and asks a simple yet profound question. Jesus looks at Peter and asks – Do you see this woman?
This morning Jesus embodies that question not just for one disciple – but for the worshipping community. This morning’s nameless woman is someone no one sees. For almost two decades she has been hunched over in her pain. For 18 years I imagine she has probably bent closer and closer to the ground. Not only because of the nature of debilitating diseases but because no one wants to see her. This woman is accustomed to not being spoken to – not being seen – and staying on the outskirts of the community’s life.
But, we read – Jesus saw her. And he doesn’t glance at her – and look away and continue with his teaching. Jesus sees her – makes eye contact with her – and calls out to her “Woman!” Ensuring everyone in the crowd has no choice but to turn their heads and look at this human being they’ve grown accustomed to ignoring.
In stories like this I spend a lot of time picturing them – and this week as I’ve tried to imagine this scene – the image of the woman keeps being replaced with an image of a 5 year old Syrian boy. I’m sure many of you saw this picture in the news this week too. A boy, 5 year old boy – sitting on a chair at the back of an ambulance while there is a flurry of active adults around him. He is completely covered in dust and ashes – it fills his hair. There is blood and dirt on his face – his arm. You don’t need to read the story to know he’s a victim of a bomb strike that destroyed his home – and many others.
And it is heartbreaking to take in that image of an adorable child whose small legs jut out of the adult-size chair because they are far too small too small to touch the ground.
The first time that still image popped onto my screen – I clicked away. Too much to take in. I saw the boy and the words – Aleppo – Syria – war – pass – I don’t want to see it. It’s too much – there is nothing I can do. Eventually – I hear Jesus say – do you see this child? So I go back to the image though and click through to watch the video. His name is Omran - shell-shocked – dazed – not crying – he wipes at his face and I listen to the details of the violence this child endured.
I can’t fix it. But I can choose to see it. (Dinner w/Syrian refugees, members of our church)
The only way we are moved towards what we prayed in our opening collect – to show forth God’s power among all peoples – like Jesus is about to show forth in this temple - is to open the eyes of our hearts to see. Surely that is what hoping to do in his congregation. Jesus doesn’t heal this woman privately in her home – or after worship in the synagogue is done. No – he insists everyone turn and see the daughter of Abraham – the child of God that is in their midst.
And after he ensures that everyone has seen her - with a word he sets her free! It’s interesting. Jesus doesn’t say – you are healed, your faith has made you well. Jesus says – Woman, you are set free! Released! Empowered to stand up straight and claim your God-given identity as beloved – welcomed – a part of this community of faith. Jesus honors her – values her – and shows everyone who is present that in God’s eyes she is worthy.
(Archbishop Desmond Tutu story from “On Being.”)
Of course Jesus would do this on the Sabbath – isn’t that what Sabbath is all about? Life in God – life with God – is freedom from all that binds us – freedom to be wholly who God intends us to be. We hear the prophet Isaiah remind God’s people – that if you delight in the Sabbath – if you call the day of the Lord holy – then remove the yoke from among you.
Remove those burdens that weigh you down and tie you up. Stand up straight – for Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden light.
The “you” in Isaiah’s text is not singular – it is plural. That’s a message for the community of God – the people who are to repair – restore – and remove those “spirits” those yokes that keep us and others down.
Jesus releases her from the weight of that yoke – and standing up straight she knows the truth that she too – is a child of God.
And for each one of us – for those things that have us bound up and bent over – inside – in those ways that only God can see – what keeps you, me – from that same freedom?
Finally – notice how the leader of the synagogue reacts. He’s clearly threatened and defensive – doesn’t talk or yell – at Jesus, the source of his anger. Instead – he ignores the miracle and talks to the crowd. Trying to shame the crowd into shaming Jesus. By insinuating if they support Jesus the people aren’t religious enough – obedient to the letter of the law. Because for the leader, that’s what the Sabbath is all about – another aspect of a burdensome religion consumed with rules of behavior and codes of conduct – where he himself the arbiter and judge. So many believe this is what religion is all about.
I don’t think that religious leader is at a point where he could see himself – let alone anyone else – as created in the image of God. He sees people who will never measure up. That yoke of internal judgment and criticism is very heavy indeed.
So – where are the people this community needs to see – needs to see with the eyes of our hearts?
Where are places where we need to live out our belief of what we say on the Sabbath - that God has walked among us so that we might set people free – make the rough places plain and the crooked to stand up straight?
Where in your life do you need to let go of judgment – of yourself – of someone else - so that God can make a way in? So that God can lift the burden you carry?
The Lord is full of compassion and mercy – slow to anger and of great kindness. (Psalm 103)
When the hubbub is over on that Sabbath in that temple – the people leave rejoicing. Bless the Lord oh my soul and all that is within me bless God’s holy name. And to feel that – is to be released from what binds – to feel that is to be whole – to feel that is to see and know the good news of God – the truth that sets us free. Amen.
The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks