August 21, 2016 — 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Luke 13:10-17
Ordinary 21C; Proper 16

Jill Duffield's lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook's email list every Monday.
Jill Duffield’s lectionary reflections are sent to the Outlook’s email list every Monday.

No one wants to be chomping at the bit. No one wants to be caught between a rock and a hard place. No one wants to be in a bind, a rut or a jam. We have a lot of idioms for being stuck, trapped, burdened and this woman in Luke is all of these things.

She is “bent together.” She is “bent double” by a spirit of infirmity and she has been so for 18 years.

She can’t stand up straight and yet she’s there in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Is she there every week? Is she one of those saints who comes to worship even when some of us well-meaning congregants think she shouldn’t. You know the ones, right? The men and women who trudge up the steep church steps in perilous weather. The ones who drive at night to Bible study. The ones who bring food to the potluck when we worry they might not have enough to eat at home. Is this bent together woman one of those people?

Or did she just show up today of all days? Maybe she’s not been to worship in a very long time. Maybe something in her said, “Today you need to go. No matter the pain, the effort, the agony or embarrassment, you need to go worship.”

Does the leader of the synagogue know her or is she one of the fringe folks who randomly show up? Is she a beloved member of the community or is she among the many marginalized and needy we label difficult?

Whoever she is, whatever her relationship to that community of faith, Jesus sees her. He not only sees her, he calls to her, reaches out and heals her. He is doing what he said he would do. In his home congregation he’d declared his purposes: healing the broken hearted, delivering the captives, bringing freedom to the oppressed, lifting up the doubled over, enabling the meek to stand tall. Today he is fulfilling his promise. He heals her and the woman praises God. Wouldn’t we all want to witness this on any given Sabbath?

We certainly like to think we would. But I am not so sure. I wonder if we would call such transformation out of order like the leader of the synagogue did in Luke. It isn’t that the leader is against the healing, per se. He is against the timing of it. There are rules to be followed. Important. Religious. Rules. There are decent and orderly ways to do divine work and worship. There are processes and procedures in place for good reasons. Important. Religious. Rules. Matter. Imagine the chaos without them?

There are six days, Jesus, six days where this type of thing would have been A-OK and only one where it is off limits. For the love of God, can you not stick to the rules given their broad latitude? You have six days to help this woman stand up, isn’t that more than enough?

The leader of the synagogue says to that burdened and bent over woman, in essence, “You’ve been this way for 18 years, what’s one more day?”

But Jesus sees her and says instead, “Not one more day.”

I am afraid we church people are too often like the leader of that synagogue. We see people bent double with infirmity of natures that are spiritual, physical, financial, systemic, and we act as if we will get to them eventually. What’s one more day? These afflictions have been around forever, we say. These problems are complicated, we say. Some people like living on the streets, we say. They might use the money to buy drugs, we say. We can’t get political in the church, we say. What’s one more day? Jesus is showing us that our response to such pain and injustice should always be a righteous indignant declaration of: “Not one more day!”

There are some key words in this Luke text. Words like “fetter” and “bind” and “loose.” These words had particular meaning in that synagogue context. They are rabbinical words, religious words with a particular meaning. Binding and loosing are what rabbis have the purview to do. They have the power and the responsibility to decide what is forbidden and what is permitted, what is bound and what is loosed. And, in this case, the verdict is that healing is forbidden. What’s one more day?

The verdict, however, gets overruled. Jesus schools them on the law. What is forbidden is allowing one more day of suffering. Jesus, remember, came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He isn’t breaking the rules, the Important. Religious. Rules. He is showing us how to truly live by them.

We underestimate the power of God when we say, “What’s one more day?” to those who are bent double with suffering. We obey the letter rather than the spirit of the law when we get indignant about the details of healing instead of incensed about the pervasive suffering of the children of Abraham. We fail to worship rightly when we send away still hunched over the people who have come to the synagogue with heavy burdens. We aren’t following Jesus when we choose sacrifice over mercy.

Too often we come to worship expecting little and that is what we get. We don’t understand that every week, every Sabbath or every Sunday, Jesus is present: binding and loosing and we should be, too. Binding up the broken hearted, loosing the fetters of the captives, helping those bent double to stand tall, on any given Sunday, on every given Sunday, Jesus, the Rabbi, is doing this for us and we should respond with praise to God. We should also respond in kind to all of those around us who have been suffering for too many years. We are called to follow the rules, God’s rules, the important, religious rules. We are called to follow the most important religious rule: loving God and neighbor, every day.

This week:

  1. What are some of the religious rules in your community that have the potential to obstruct the spirit of God’s law?
  2. How do we determine what to bind and loose, forbid or allow, in our context? Are there particular examples that come to mind where making such a determination was difficult? Why? What was the outcome?
  3. Do we sometimes value “ox” and “donkeys” over daughters of Abraham? How so?
  4. Read the Luke text using lectio divina.
  5. Who are the bent double in your community? How might you help them stand upright?
  6. Have there been times when you have spontaneously and immediately praised God? Why?

Want to receive Looking into the Lectionary content in your inbox on Mondays? Click here to join our email list!