Sermon Proper 16C 2019
The Rev. John M. Atkins
10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And 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.12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But 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.” 15But 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? 16And 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?” 17When 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.
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It was a cloudy, cold, January, Saturday afternoon. Daddy and I were out on our farm when we saw in the distance black smoke rising. We both knew that meant trouble.
We hopped in Daddy’s pickup and raced down our country road. We found the Miller’s house was on fire.
Other neighbors from the surrounding countryside frantically joined us. A couple of neighbors dashed into the Miller’s house finding no one was home.
Several of us entered the burning house and grabbed what we thought were valuable items, taking them outside to safety. One neighbor found a box of pictures found in a 2nd story bedroom and threw it out the front window. Clothing was also tossed out and rescued by other before they were dampened by the snow.
My High School buddy, Anthony, told me, “Let’s take out the piano.” He picked up one end, I picked up the other and we carried the spinet outside. The snow made it difficult to carry. To this day, I really don’t know how we did it.
The Miller’s house and many of their possessions were gone within 30 minutes of our arrival.
No fire truck came to the scene. That was because Mr. & Mrs. Miller hadn’t paid their dues to the Lawson Fire Department.
I remember standing there, with all the others – in silence, gazing upon the flaming pile of remains that once was a home.
I was angry that the fire company wouldn’t come. I understood about the need to pay dues. Even so, I was angry that strict adherence to rules had contributed to the total loss of the Miller’s home.
Luke tells us that it was common for the magnetic Rabbi to be asked to teach in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Luke reports that on more than one occasion
Jesus ran into trouble while teaching in the synagogue.
Today we read of a woman Jesus eyed while he was teaching. The woman was bent-over and obviously in pain. We’re told that the woman had been crippled with an ailment for 18 years. The number 18 is significant.
In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter has a numeric value. When you combine the letters for 8 and 10 you get the word meaning “life.” So, in the Hebrew tradition, the number 18 signifies life.
Yet, in this scenario, I think that the number 18 holds additional meaning.
The sixth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is “vav” – which is coincidentally shaped like a hook or a person bent-over. The number 6 in Hebrew has several meanings, including “connection”, “the physical world” and “incompleteness”. Tripling the number 6 yields the number 18 or the number 666.
I think the number 18 in this passage from Luke can signify that the woman’s physically bent life was disconnected and incomplete regarding God’s desired for her. The tortured woman’s back may have been not only bent-over as a result of pain, but also, in shame of being looked upon as a sinner separated from God, cursed to live as an outcast, incomplete and abnormal.
No matter, Jesus saw the woman and responded with love and compassion. He called her to him, saying, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” Then Jesus laid his hands on her, and “she straightened up and praised God.”
But trouble soon ensued. The leader of the synagogue became jealous of the attention Jesus was getting. The man perceived that he was being disrespected and consequentially losing his power as head of the synagogue and protector of Jewish law and tradition. So, the leader of the synagogue attempted to shame both the woman for being healed on the Sabbath and Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. But like many other occasions, Jesus turned the tide.
Jesus humanized the woman. She was not an issue. She had feelings and God-given purpose. Jesus would not let her be controlled by an abusive interpretation of Jewish law.
The woman was a human being, a daughter of Abraham who had been “bound by Satan.” In Hebrew and Greek, it is more pointedly stated that the woman was bound by the “accuser”, “adversary” or “destroyer”.
“Jesus put his opponents to shame”, and the common, everyday people worshiping in the synagogue rejoiced. They celebrated the woman having been healed and Jesus proclaiming love infinitely more powerful than rules. This was a huge shift of focus that many of Jesus’ contemporaries appreciated but threatened many powerful religious and political leaders.
God’s love empowered Jesus to be courageous in showing love and compassion. And, God’s love can empower us today.
Scott Warren is a humanitarian in Ajo, Arizona, a small town 40 miles north of the border with Mexico. I was shocked, saddened and angered to learn that Scott was set up and arrested by Border Patrol officer, John Martinez, for leaving bottles of water in the desert where an estimated 3,000 migrants have died since the year 2000. He was charged with three felonies for providing humanitarian aid.
Scott Warren was brought to trial, which ended in a hung jury. Now federal prosecutors are seeking to re-try Scott’s case.
Since when is leaving bottles of life-giving water a crime in our country?I’m confident in what Jesus would do. He’d keep leaving water in the desert no matter the consequences because it’s not about an issue, it’s about human life.
Laws do not triumph over love in God’s realm.
We are living at a critical time in human history. It’s up to the followers of Jesus, and other humanitarians, to be empowered and act, like Jesus, with courageous love.