I want to start today by naming what this Gospel story (and sermon) is not about. This is not a story about how the Law (and Judaism) is bad and Jesus as the great reformer. In a week that has been filled with antisemitism, where I have seen Jewish friends attacked I want to make sure we start right there. Because for a long time this story (and a lot of our Gospel accounts unfortunately) have been used as weapons against our Jewish cousins.
On the surface the conflict here is between a synagogue (read Jewish) religious leader and Jesus. But Luke is a clever writer and the surface reading is rarely where we should be focused. So first, Jesus is also a Jewish religious leader. And he is doing exactly what my rabbi friends were doing at Sabbath services yesterday: preaching and teaching. Digging into the ways his congregation’s lives intersect with scripture.
So what’s the deeper reading of this text doing?
A woman who has been bent over, literally unable to stand up and look her fellows in the eye, is healed. And immediately someone starts complaining about how it happened. Not to Jesus, who offered her healing, but to the other people in the room. To the folks who (we assume) might also need healing at some point in their lives.
The complainer (who stands in for many upstanding leaders in all cultures) says: “ok fine, you want healing, fine but follow the rules at least.”
Does it sound familiar?
Perhaps a city councilperson in Aberdeen says: well yes the homeless have to be somewhere but can’t they people just go to the assigned shelter and not clutter up our riverbank?
Or maybe a legislature says loudly “I’m not against immigration or asylum seekers but they have to do it legally.”
I have colleagues who have been criticized for how they protest injustice, racism, and more; because they’re making someone uncomfortable.
Luke understands that wholeness is rarely convenient, neat, or nice.
Luke’s story isn’t a critique of Judaism but of our human tendency to prioritize order over mercy, niceness over kindness, comfort over wholeness. An ox or a donkey was something of value to Jesus’ congregation. It was something that made money, it was wealth.
How often in human society do people lose out to the bottom line?
How often do we worry about the shareholders, and profit margins at the expense of real live people?
As a society we tend to ignore uncomfortable history, and wonder why we cannot seem to heal. But get right down into our messy personal lives: how often have you hesitated to ask for help because you didn’t want to be a bother?
Jesus gives us a concrete example of how backwards we have things. Jesus sees hungry people and he feeds them. He sees sick suffering people and he heals them. It is so shockingly practical I think we often miss just how simple it is. Jesus sees a need, and he meets that need. He doesn’t make it theoretical. He doesn’t gives tests of worthiness. He doesn’t ask how much this is all going to cost (his disciples make that mistake once).
As we joke in my household: it isn’t rocket surgery!
When I was newly married I got sick (a lot like now actually) and I felt so bad about asking my husband to run to the store for orange juice, or cold medicine, or to make me soup. I kept apologizing for being a bother, or not being fun, or not helping with housework. And because my husband is a gem he quietly went to the store, bought all the practical medication I had asked for and a box of popsicles I would have never even thought of.
Luke reminds us that while we are really interested in a lot of minutiae about the how and why and when, God cares about restoring wholeness. In us, and in the world. God is concerned with wholeness first, last, always. Anything that gets in the way of that? Well, those things are apparently not of God (even if we care about them a lot).
Especially when it is inconvenient. When you don’t think you deserve it. When you feel guilty or shy or unimportant.