A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor, PulaskiHeightsBaptistChurch, Little Rock, Ark., on August 22, 2010.
Psalm 71:1-6; Luke 13:10-17
Luke doesn’t say it here, but he does earlier in his account of Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus attended synagogue worship in his hometown of Nazareth, we are told it was “his custom.” I participated in a luncheon discussion earlier this week and the question was asked, “If Jesus were here today in the flesh, would he go to church?” Luke’s statement was offered by one of the participants to corroborate the opinion that, yes, he would.
Perhaps the most important question is not whether Jesus would go to church, but how would he be treated if he did? By you and me? Before you answer that, let me ask you, do you honestly think he would come in, sit down in the pew, take out the hymnal, sing our songs, read scripture along with us, listen to the sermon, and then just leave without saying anything?
Chances are, Jesus would challenge the way we do things, would question our sincerity in doing them, and would demand that we re-form our faith into a greater semblance of the kind of commitment he would want us to have. But then again, we would probably question whether he really was Jesus and would want to see some sort of proof, just like the folks who challenged him in his day. How about the scar in his side and on the palms of his hands? We’d want to see them, wouldn’t we? Just to be sure. That’s all, just to be sure.
And would we stand before him, as did the leader of the synagogue, and challenge his authority for coming in and disrupting our gathering? Would we take issue with him for breaking our rules? “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, not on the sabbath day.”
The question could be asked, who is the synagogue leader challenging… Jesus or the woman? The answer is, both. In fact, he speaks to everyone when he says, “Come on those days and be cured.” “Not today. Not today.”
Look, buddy, all she did was show up for worship. It was Jesus who took the initiative, when he saw her, to heal her of her infirmity. She didn’t ask for his help. If you’ve got an issue with anyone, take it up with the Nazarene.
“Okay, I will. There are six days on which work ought to be done…” he says as he pokes his bony finger in Jesus’ face, “not on the sabbath day.”
What is the man’s motivation for confronting Jesus and this woman? Pretty obvious, isn’t it? His institution, not only his synagogue but what he thinks his synagogue represents, is being threatened by what Jesus did. This is out of the ordinary and does not fit within the defined parameters of how their religion is supposed to be conducted. In short, Jesus has broken the accepted rules, and if anyone is going to see that he doesn’t get away with it, it is he, the synagogue leader, who must do it.
You can’t accept people for membership who haven’t been immersed. You can’t allow someone to be involved in your fellowship whose lifestyle doesn’t match the cultural norm. You can’t tolerate behavior that isn’t considered kosher. You can’t heal on the sabbath because healing is work, and there are specific laws that define what work is considered to be.
Somewhere along the way we have lost sight of the fact that rules are signposts and not hitching posts.1
Still, how about a little common sense here? Surely, Jesus knew he was going to tick some people off by doing this. Whether he agreed with the rules or not, he still knew the rules. Could it be argued that he’s setting the guy up, knows how he would react, and is looking for a fight? The woman, though she has put up with this malady for eighteen long years, is not suffering from a fatal disease. Eighteen years, more than half of Jesus’ life. So what’s another day? Just one more day. The synagogue leader is right. It could have waited until the sabbath was over.
Look at the context of this story. Jesus is in something of a fighting mood… well, a confrontational mood anyway. He says he came to bring fire to the earth, “and how I wish it were already kindled!” he thunders. That is followed by the parable of the fig tree where he says that if the tree does not yield fruit, the owner of the vineyard will say to his gardener, “Cut it down!”
I will remind you that, according to Luke, Jesus has “set his face” toward Jerusalem. What an interesting way of putting it. I would think it is hard to set one’s face without clenching one’s jaws, making a determined effort to walk right smack dab into the face of whatever it is that confronts you. The soldiers at NormandyBeach during World War II, knowing the German forces had their machine guns and artillery aimed at them the moment they hit the sand. The patient going into surgery not knowing if she will come out alive. The accused going to trial knowing his fate is in the hands of twelve of his peers.
The synagogue leader can afford to counsel caution and patience, even if he chooses to do so loudly. He reminds me of a scene from the movie Bad Day at Black Rock. Spencer Tracy says to one of his antagonists, “You’re not only wrong, you’re wrong at the top of your voice!” That is our synagogue leader who can afford to wait until tomorrow.
Jesus cannot afford to wait.
He knows his days are numbered. There is much to be done, and waiting until tomorrow is not an option. His Jaw is clenched, his face is set. He is determined to do his Father’s will, regardless of what day it is.
What if we lived like that, as if we did not have tomorrow? If we could really pull it off, doing today what truly needs to be done, giving consideration only to that which is vitally important, using our time to do what ultimately matters most? Could we do it? Could we keep up the pace? Would it make a difference if we did?
If you’re willing to ponder that, and then respond, start with the bread and the cup. We’re going to partake of them today. We will not wait, if for no other reason than this is the appointed time. But still, there’s another reason. There is an urgency to what they represent.
So eat, drink, tomorrow…
Well, we don’t know what tomorrow may bring. Maybe that is why Jesus didn’t wait until the day after the sabbath to heal this woman. Chances are, he doesn’t want us to wait either.
Lord, when the bread and the cup are put in our hands, let us not wait for they speak to us of the presence of your kingdom. Show us how to serve you and your kingdom w/ an urgency that leads us, w/ your guidance, to change the world. Amen.
1William Sloane Coffin, Credo (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 22.