Okay, we are going to play a little game and someone is going to win a prize. So, let’s get started.
I want everyone to raise their hand.
Okay, if you have red on I want you to lower your hand.
If you have on sandals I want you to lower your hand.
If you are a female, raise your hand . . . no, wait, that’s not right. Let’s start over. Everyone raise your hands.
Okay, if you are over 70 years old lower your hand.
If you have blue on, raise your hand.
If you are male, lower your hand . . . no, wait, that’s not right either. Let’s try this again. Everyone, raise your hands.
If you have blue eyes, lower your hand.
If you have pants on, lower your hand.
If you have a necklace on, raise your hand . . . no, that doesn’t seem right either . . .
Okay, everybody can lower their hands. How did that game make you feel? A little frustrated? A little anxious? Mad? Well, good, because that was the whole point of this little game . . . to get you to feel. To get you to feel what it is like when run into a situation in which you don’t really know what is going on, the rules keep changing, and nothing is getting accomplished. People experience this all the time in their lives, especially those who are considered “border people” . . . people who live on the fringes of society.
Our story this morning begins on the Sabbath . . . the holy day set aside for rest . . . the day in which God’s children are to do nothing that would be considered work or that would distract them from worshipping God. Jesus is teaching in one of the synagogues. There in the congregation is a woman who had been crippled for 18 years. Jesus calls her forward, blesses her, lays his hands upon her, and heals her. A pretty exciting moment in church calling for celebration and joy, wouldn’t you say?
But, no . . . this only upset the leader of the synagogue who preached out to the congregation against Jesus. Basically he told the congregation that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath . . . sinning against God . . . and, be a general nuisance. If Jesus wants to heal people let him do it on any of the other six days of the week, but the Sabbath is not for healing!
Well, a line had been drawn in the sand. Jesus rose up to the occasion and crossed the line. He reprimanded the leader of the synagogue . . . called him a hypocrite. He pointed out to the leader that none of them sitting or standing there in the synagogue were innocent . . . all were guilty of breaking the commandment dealing with the Sabbath . . . that all have and would take the time to tend their animals on the Sabbath if they were thirsty. So, why shouldn’t this crippled woman . . . a child of God . . . valued more than any animal . . . be healed?
Of course what Jesus is doing is pointing out the inconsistency . . . the incongruency between what the people say and what they do. And, the congregation listened . . . pondered his words, and the writer tells us that they were delighted with what Jesus was saying and doing.
This story invites us to ponder . . . to ponder the ways in which our own understandings, rules, customs, and habits of what is right and proper hinder the work and will of God. It invites us to ponder how our version of the “Good News” really becomes the “Bad News” for those who are not a part of the circle of faith as we see it . . . those who are on the outside looking in . . . those who are on the borders. It invites us to ponder whether or not we might be the hypocrites.
In most of the communities where I have served as a pastor, the churches and service agencies teamed up to create a system to help those who were in need within the community and traveling through the community. In particular, because they were always being taken advantage of, these communities created a system to safeguard themselves. Usually the person needing assistance would contact a church. The church would then inform them that they needed to contact the local police and get a “green card”. The police would take down their information, run a quick background check, and then issue the card. The individual then could take the green card to the local Salvation Army, where again, they were asked for information . . . gave up their green card, and received their assistance . . . and, it was explained, that they could only receive such assistance about six times a year—and, they would be keeping track.
Have any of us ever experienced being hungry and having to ask for food? It is not a pleasant experience. Have any of us ever been homeless and needed shelter? It is not a pleasant experience. I think that you know what I mean, and you may have experienced for yourself already. I have heard stories from more than a few of you about the hoops that you have to jump through, the run-arounds you endure, the confusion, the anger, and frustration of having to deal with insurance companies, retirement plans when you need help for medical issues. You keep running up against those who rail at you about the Sabbath and keeping it holy. The very things that are meant to help are a greater sin than just doing what needs to be done to help.
All of our understandings, rules, customs, and habits have become chains that bind more than they are to help. Our systems of assistance and help have become more cumbersome and burdensome than they are to help. And, why? God calls us through Jesus to help those less fortunate than ourselves . . . calls us to feed the hungry . . .clothe the naked . . . shelter the homeless . . . heal the wounded . . . comfort the bereaved . . . to include those on the borders of society . . . to bring all into God’s family. So, why is it so hard to do this? Because . . .
. . . because that is just the way that things are done . . . the way that things have always been done. It is the Sabbath . . . damn us if we are to actually do God’s will and help someone on the Sabbath! It wouldn’t be right.
Or, would it?
The bottom line is simple in this story . . . heal the woman. That is the work and will of God, and Jesus recognizes it. He breaks the Sabbath to allow the woman to walk. Jesus went for the greater good, and so should we when it comes to doing God’s will through Jesus. We should let go of control and allow God to have control. We should consider the ways in which our own understandings, rules, customs, and habits of what is right and proper have hindered the will of God. We should ponder them and break those bonds so that we might ourselves fulfill the will of God . . . that we might become proclaimers of the Good News of release, recovery, and freedom for all of God’s children. Amen.