The relationship between Muslims and members of other faiths – and persons of no explicit faith – has been a lot like that woman who appeared in the synagogue on the Sabbath while Jesus was teaching. (Luke 13:10-17)
That is, it’s been “crippled,” “bent over,” “not able to stand up straight.”
Well, with one exception: In the case of the woman, she had only suffered from her deformed posture for 18 years. As for the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims, the malformed posture has been going on for decades and centuries.
We know that the suggested parallel between the crippled woman and the crippled faith relationships is justified because in the text, Luke makes it plain that the cause of the woman’s condition was not something physical but was a result of a bad “spirit.”
Luke 13:11 reads that she was “a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.”
And that’s the case for the deformed relationship among the faith communities, too. It really is a spiritual thing, with a wicked demon operating at the core.
When, in the story, Jesus first saw the woman in the synagogue, he called her over to him. (One does have to wonder why an able-bodied, young rabbi couldn’t have gone to the struggling woman rather than asking her to come to him.)
He said, “Woman you are free from your ailment,” and then as he placed his hands on her, “she immediately stood up straight and began praising God.” (Luke 13:12-13)
She was not alone in her rejoicing. Almost everyone in the congregation joined in the celebration. What a wondrous thing to rejoice about!
And wouldn’t that rejoicing be the case if the relationship between the faith communities could also be straightened out and put upright? It, too, would be a cause for celebration among the congregations, right? Just think of what would happen if someone actually called and reached out and invited people of all faiths to come together to work and play with one another.
But, sure enough, a religious leader in the synagogue put the kibosh on that rejoicing.
“Why,” he asked indignantly, “couldn’t this young whippersnapper of a rabbi heal the woman on some other day than the Sabbath? Why did he have to do it on a holy day?” (Luke 13:14)
It would seem that this tracks closely with what has happened in lower Manhattan when a cabal of leaders – civic and religious – asked indignantly why an act of religious and cultural healing by a Muslim community couldn’t have been done, in this case, not on some non-holy day, but on some non-holy land – somewhere far from the hallowed Twin Towers site of the 9/11 attacks.
The condemnation of Jesus by the religious leader must have rallied his close followers with at least a kind of silent consent because Jesus responded not just to that indignant leader but also to all who joined the leader with indignity.
“You hypocrites!” Jesus cried out. (Luke 13:15)
And then he asked them, probably with some sarcasm in his voice: Don’t each of you, on the Sabbath, release your ox or donkey from the barn and lead it to water? If that’s so, Jesus continued, why would you deny the healing of this longsuffering daughter of Abraham on a holy day? (Luke 13:16)
Sort of like asking, with some sarcasm, whether any of the folks objecting to the construction of the Muslim center for use by everyone would refuse to walk on the sacred soil of Ground Zero even if not stepping on that soil meant endangering the well-being of a beloved member of your household. No? Why then, Jesus might ask, would you object to an act of healing of the longstanding and crippling divide between Muslims and other people of faith (and non-faith) on a piece of property near that holy land.
The Gospel story tells us that, upon hearing this, the leader and his close followers were put to shame “and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things Jesus was doing.” (Luke 13:17)
For the sake of straightening out a longstanding crippled relationship, how about some hypocrites being called out now?
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.