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SEASON OF PENTECOST
"Today, we find the story of a crippled woman being healed on the Sabbath. Healed right in front of the synagogue ruler and his offsiders who castigate Jesus for daring to disturb the sanctity of the Sabbath by such an unorthodox action of healing someone - and a woman at that!
It seems almost unbelievable that such a situation could have existed, and it is no wonder that it called forth such harsh words from Jesus. I have always felt a particular sense of disbelief at the actions of the religious leaders because a friend of our family, back in Scotland, had some kind of progressive spinal disease, which caused her to become more and more bent over so that eventually she looked at the ground and could only move her eyes to try to see ahead. I could never see her without wondering why nothing could be done to alleviate her distressing condition.
I'm always reminded of her when I read these verses describing Jesus healing this woman who was, as Luke says, "bent over and could not straighten up at all" - who had suffered in this way for 18 years - Jesus probably only looked at her and the compassionate desire to heal her was present. I can't imagine how it could be otherwise. Yet, in this house of prayer, the synagogue ruler was "indignant" because Jesus had performed this act of healing on the Sabbath. No wonder Jesus turned on him and the other critics with the words "You hypocrites!" And they were hypocrites, as Jesus pointedly detailed their activities which they obviously had no trouble performing on the Sabbath.
The scribes and the Pharisees taught that only through strict observance of the religious law could the purity of Israel be preserved and her mission as the chosen people of God be fulfilled. These beliefs led on to the belief that only the elect, from among their midst, no doubt those who did uphold the law to the best of their ability as they understood it, would be saved, would experience salvation.
Its a bit like a story I read recently about the man at a revival in Georgia who stood up and gave his testimony: "Brothers and sisters" he said, "you know i haven't been what I ought to have been. I stole hogs. I got drunk, told lies. I've played poker, cussed and abused women. But through all this, there is one thing I ain't done. I ain't never lost my religion!" He obviously ain't never understood his religion either!
Different things can obviously obscure people's perception as to what salvation is. The episode in the synagogue highlights the point that the scrupulous observance of the law had blinded its instructors to the opportunity of observing salvation in action right in front of their eyes. Salvation - in this instance experienced as a literal setting free - liberation - for the woman from that which bound her - held her captive. Salvation for her - healing, wholeness.
It's interesting to see how Jesus gets his message across in these verses. First, in the synagogue, he demonstrates what the kingdom of God is about... healing and wholeness and justice. Then in verses immediately following he gets in some teaching about the kingdom, by means of two very short parables, the one about the mustard seed, illustrating how the kingdom can grow from tiny beginnings, and the parable of the yeast. John Shea interprets Jesus' words like this "God is dough bursting into bread, seeds stretching into trees, spring promenading into summer... the Kingdom that comes transforms what is..."
After these quick and to the point teachings about the Kingdom, Jesus delivers the body blow... perhaps with the healing of the woman on the Sabbath and the indignance of the Synagogue leader still in his mind when he said "no-one can take it for granted that they will be among the "saved", the "chosen", the "elect".
The religious leaders of the day took it for granted that they could, by means of the law, set the boundaries of Gods future, but Jesus kept expanding these boundaries, whilst at the same time narrowing the entry to that future. For Jesus himself, the doorway was as narrow as a cross.
The shape of the door is love - the power to heal crushed lives and broken relationships - the love displayed by Jesus through his "self-emptying" and his death on the cross. We cannot fit through that narrow entry unless we strive to empty ourselves of all the excess baggage that we carry around, often in the name of faith.
But, how do we let go of that baggage, and what do we put in its place? What images will we have to absorb and actualise as we set our feet on that narrow path that Jesus took. The path marked by love, by self-sacrifice, by self-emptying." Loving Jesus, we are in need of your grace to unsettle and redirect our hearts. We are in need of your power To rekindle and sustain our passion to serve you. We are in need of your love That we might recognize the ever- present possibilities For change and conversion and growth.
We believe that your Spirit Is at work in your world and in our church. Give us the faith to believe That you can accomplish wonderful things through us And give us the strength and courage and hope To live in the knowledge that with you All things are possible
This we pray in Jesus’ name
Click here to play COMING HOME - A short video recorded of Moira telling her story of faith and her journey through a divine encounter into full time ministry.