The holy gospel according to Luke, the 13th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
Now (Jesus) 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.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
What do you think about the law? Are rules important to you? How do you decide if a law is good or bad?
School starts this week for our kids in Yakima. Even if you are done with that part of your life, you can still remember the first week of school. Your first school days are filled with learning all the new rules.
Even if you are in the same building as last year, you probably have a different teacher, and different teachers have different rules. Where to sit, how to line up, where to go for the fire drills. When to raise your hand, when you can speak up, when you go for lunch.
When I was in elementary school, I was anxious to please my teachers, to do everything right, and stay out of trouble. I didn’t want to find out how much trouble I would be in at home if I broke the rules at school. I was focused on learning and following the rules.
Like most young children, I had a strong sense of fairness. I wanted the rules to be the same for everyone. I didn’t want anyone to have an advantage over anyone else.
We played softball at recess nearly every day. We were very aware of the rules of the game. Everyone got a turn at bat, even the bad players like me. If a ball hit you, you got to walk to first base. Three strikes meant you were out.
The Bible is full of rules. “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” We all remember the third commandment from our days in confirmation class. This commandment has always been one of the primary markers of the Jewish faith. Along with the dietary laws, keeping the Sabbath was how you knew a family was Jewish.
The Ten Commandments were given to Moses when the people were wandering in the wilderness. They needed direction in their lives. They had just escaped from slavery and needed to learn how to live as free people. They needed to be reminded that work was important, but rest was a gift of God, too.
There are two different ways to see the ten commandments and the laws God gives us. You can see them as rules that make demands on our lives, or you can see them as a gift from God. God gave the people something good, something helpful. And the people turned it into something restrictive.
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus sees a woman who has been bent over for 18 years. Luke tells us that a spirit had crippled her. By spirit, Luke means a demon, not a good spirit. Her ailment wasn’t because of any sin she committed. She had been suffering a long time and her medical condition wasn’t her fault.
The religious leader sees the woman, too. He sees someone who should have to follow the rules. In his mind she should wait another day for healing. She should get in line and wait her turn. After all, lots of other people came to Jesus through the proper channels on the right days of the week and were healed legally.
Healing her on the Sabbath was illegal. It was against the law, God’s law. Healing this woman on the Sabbath was unfair to all those who had been legally healed on the other six days of the week. Jesus should have waited one more day. After all, what difference does one day make to someone who has been suffering 18 years? She could wait another day.
This synagogue leader has a point. The law is there for a reason. God gave the law. This particular law is number three on God’s top ten list. No one has a right to break this very important law.
We can understand this synagogue leader. Rules and laws are there for a reason. The Ten Commandments are given by God. We think they are important enough that we promise to teach them to our children when we bring them for baptism. We make our confirmation students memorize them and learn their meanings.
We think everyone should follow the law. We want our neighbors to stop when they see the red octagonal sign. It’s safer for everyone when we go at the green light and signal our turns. We believe it’s a good rule that three strikes mean you are out.
But, wait, in this story, Jesus breaks the law. He doesn’t run a stop sign or do anything that isn’t safe. He heals a woman on the Sabbath. And this isn’t the only time he heals on the Sabbath, either.
So we must ask ourselves, what does this law mean? How is Jesus interpreting the law? Is he saying, “I’m the Son of God, so the rules don’t apply to me?” No, Matthew reminds us that Jesus says he came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it.
No, Jesus isn’t evading the law. I think perhaps, that Jesus is telling us that the purpose of the law is to help people, not to restrict them, not to hurt them. If the law can be summed up as loving God and loving your neighbor, then all laws must be interpreted by that standard.
God gives us the Law as a gift. Even today, Jewish weekly synagogue worship always includes hymns of thanksgiving for the gift of the Sabbath.
What if we thought of all of God’s Law that way, as a gift? Isn’t it wonderful to have one day a week when you can rest? Not worry about work? Not worry about anything we need to do? One day a week when you know that God who made the universe loves you, wants you to have a time to rest, and can take care of things without your help?
God gave the commandments to the people wandering in the wilderness as a way to organize their lives, as a way to help them. They had been living their whole lives following orders from their owners. They needed to learn how to think for themselves and make good decisions, just like we all did when we were school children. God gave them the law out of love.
Today, Jesus reminds us that the point of the law is to love God and love our neighbors. One of the ways we love our neighbors is by being fair to everyone.
If you know the rules, the game can be played fairly. If you don’t know the rules, they don’t apply, and things just aren’t fair. Fairness is good, right?
You know what’s even better than fairness, though? Grace. Grace is even better than fairness.
Grace is better than fairness. And before you start wondering if grace is unfair, you have to remember that grace is God’s gift to everyone. Christian writer, Anne Lamott, is known for saying, “Grace always bats last.”
When Jesus healed the woman, he taught us something about the law. The law is important, but it always comes in second place. Jesus showed us that grace is always more important than law.
The law is a gift of God to us. The Law helps us live our lives better. The Law helps keep order in the world. The Law reminds us to take care of each other.
The law also reminds us that we can never fully be the people God made us to be. That is why Grace always wins. The law always comes in second when it is time for compassion and mercy and love.
Jesus invites us to value the law as God’s gift to us. But he asks us to remember that there is a far greater gift, the gift of grace and love. Grace and love always have the last word.