XII Pentecost, Year C
Jer 1:4-10 or * Is 58:9b-14
Ps 71:1-6 * Ps 103:1-8
Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." Then I said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy." But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you, Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD." Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the LORD said to me, "Now I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
* (Isaiah 58:9b-14)
If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in. If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and the holy day of the LORD honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
You have not come to something that can be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of a trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that not another word be spoken to them. (For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned to death." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear.") But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven! At that time his voice shook the earth; but now he has promised, "Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heaven." This phrase, "Yet once more," indicates the removal of what is shaken–that is, created things–so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment." When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him and said, "You hypocrites! 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 set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?" When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Jesus’ critique today is not a critique of Judaism but of the type of spirituality manifested by the leader of the synagogue. (Might just as well have been a pastor or priest.) We shall understand him as a type of religious leader. What is his objection? That Jesus heals on the Sabbath. Jesus reply is to point out that even those who stand in judgement on him meet the needs of their animals on the Sabbath. His argument ‘from minor to major’ is that this woman, ‘a daughter of Abraham’, has a need and he, in healing her, has simply met a need.
But “religion” often rejects healing. It has its own definition of healing that excludes Jesus’ action in this instance.
When religion rejects healing, it takes offense when it’s scapegoats are taken away, when the less fortunate seem blessed. When religion rejects healing it loses it’s integrative wholeness (shalom), it’s political impact and it’s spiritual power. What must it have been like to have come to this synagogue for 18 years (x 52 = 936 Sabbaths), hunched over, broken, perceived as ‘judged’ or ‘cursed?’ Sabbath by Sabbath hearing the Word of God, living the Jewish liturgical year and celebrating the mighty acts of God and yet for her, there was no deliverance. Until the day Jesus came to town.
Real healing must come at the expense of our way of bringing it about through adherence to prohibition and ritual. Our human ‘healing’ generally takes place as all against one, a dot within a circle, as it were. The community encircles the “afflicted” one and imposes a healing that restores undifferentiation. Jesus’ healing more frequently takes place at the margins. In his healings, Jesus re-socializes those healed without re-forming them.
Similar to the story of the Geresene demoniac, Jesus, in healing the woman, deprives the community of a scapegoat. She has borne the burden of their perceptions long enough. And she, this daughter of promise, this daughter of Abraham, is caught up in the mighty acts of God, and shares in the promise of the biblical jubilee. She has reason to praise God. She has reason to give thanks.
So, how do we stop the scapegoating mechanism from driving our congregations? Like Jesus, we can bring healing to those afflicted, those marginalized. That is our mission. Our call is to ‘bring division’, to stand with the scapegoated, to be peacemakers, to say once and for all, ‘All against one no longer works. One gave all for all.”
If the religious leader is to believe this, it must be confessed that one’s view of God may have been previously distorted. Perhaps worldly possessions or piety aren’t measures of God’s grace. Maybe God works in ways never thought of before. Maybe up is down and down is up. The last first and the first last. The woman with the healed back will walk out of the synagogue that Sabbath rejoicing. The leader will still be carrying the burden of his religious certainty and he leaves hunched over in spirit. In need of healing, only he is not aware of his need….yet.
Fitzmeyer notes: “The impersonal verb ‘dei’ literally, ‘it is necessary’, (v 16), alludes to the necessary realization of God’s plan of salvation-history, working itself out in Jesus’ ministry. The irony in the episode is seen in that the opposition to Jesus’ curing act comes from a ‘leader of the synagogue,’ who himself uses the same impersonal verb, ‘dei,’ (v 14) to express the human obligation of work (on six other days!).”
Frederick Danker is just too good not to quote in full (Jesus and the New Age): “Jesus plays on the word ‘untie’ (vs 15) and ‘bound’ (vs 16). The woman is entitled to more consideration than an animal. For eighteen years she has been, as one might say, in Satan’s stall. It is quite apparent that there is no real connection between the requirement of water for an animal and a woman’s malady of eighteen years standing. After all, she could have been healed on the next day. Jesus’ very playfulness in the dialogue indicates that he takes no stock in casuistry. He could not care less about such picayunish reasoning. As far as he is concerned, the sabbath day is an especially appropriate time to release this woman. Since she is a daughter of Abraham the oath sworn to Abraham (1:73) applies to her; for the sabbath is emblematic of God’s outreach to his people. It is the climax of God’s creative activity (Genesis 2:1-3) and a day of special blessing for his people (Hebrews 4:9-11; Matthew 11:29-30). The very purpose of the sabbath was to protect the interests of a man from exploitation by his fellowman. Legalists had turned it into a dreary prospect. Jesus’ deed was in harmony with the spirit of the original ordinance.”
Preaching, we have the opportunity to call attention to the way that we use “sickness” as a way to label our scapegoats. Watching the news, how often do we say of the horrors we see there, “Oh, gosh, that’s ‘sick’!” Sickness is that which sets us apart, requires that we be placed in sanitariums. (They were originally places for folks with infectious diseases, not mental illnesses.)
Illness, by it’s very nature, is an arbitrary distinction. Is illness the presence of germs? No. We all carry them all the time. Mental illness is even more arbitrary. It is basically a way of perceiving reality that doesn’t conform that of the majority. In Soviet Russia, it’s the place dissidents were sent. “You don’t understand the wisdom of Marxism? You must be crazy!” (Michael and I have been called crazy by angry readers from time to time.)
Healing is not restoration to “sameness.” It is being freed from the association between certain states and being “afflicted.” (That is, in some sense, cursed, or having some kind of moral deficit.) Preaching Good News then means preaching healing in this new way.
Do we not sing that Jesus ‘is ris’n with healing in His wings?’ Eastern Orthodoxy has long benefited from the impact the Good Physician metaphor has played in its Christology. We in the West would do well to consider such. Our Christology is far too juridical in nature. Jesus is the Great Physician, the Good Shepherd, the Living Water, the Bread of Life, the Resurrection and the Life. The Gospels do not describe Jesus as the warrior messiah, the judge, jury and executioner, the mad dad. If we are going to tell the truth ‘as it is in Jesus’ then we might start by acknowledging the burden of our spiritualities; those things that have us hunched over.