Pentecost 12C, 2007
Luke 13: 10-17
A Liturgy is also available
BEYOND THE HOO-HAR AND SOMEONE ELSES RULES…
During the late 1960s, I along with many other then university students,
sat in the gutter of Collins Street, Melbourne,
and registered our protest against the Vietnam War.
I am sure many of you can remember the controversy which such actions aroused.
There were those who cheered any effort, no matter what form the protest took.
There were those who were more cautiously behind the principles of anti war,
but who were totally opposed to the demonstrations because they were illegal.
And there were all shades of opinion in between.
Many people fell into the second category,
of those who thought they might be opposed to the war,
but who were horrified by the actions of the demonstrators.
Nobody, they said, especially not students,
should consider themselves above the law.
Action was OK, but should always be within the law.
Similar things were said during the demonstrations against the war in Iraq.
Whenever so-called ‘illegal actions’ have been taken to heighten
the consciousness of the general public towards a particular issue,
there has been controversy.
In today's traditional gospel story by the anonymous storyteller we call Luke,
we find an imaginative, rather than an historical story,
of Jesus suppossedly breaking the law.
Luke says Jesus was teaching in the synagogue when he saw a ‘bent-over’ woman,
and he immediately stopped what he was doing,
called the woman, and heals her.
We have heard this story many times in our life-time,
but can we imagine the woman in this story.
Uniting Church minister Anneke Oppewal can. Listen to her reflection on this story:
“18 years she had been growing smaller, into herself, face down, 18 years she had been bound by this spirit and made quite unable to stand up. And here she was, on the Sabbath, in the synagogue, bent and all, but close enough to the front to catch his eye.
“She must have longed for something, otherwise she would not have come, would not have tried, would not have risked meeting the eyes of this man. Was there still hope in her somewhere? A tiny wisp of a hope, that could have been blown away very easily? Was there still the un- bendable conviction that somehow she was worth more than being the woman weighed down by sorrow and pain?” (Oppewal-Worship/rcl email list. 2007).
Then the words, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment’.
“What did those words, those hands do? Did they awaken anger and revolt in her that had been slumbering inside her all along? Or did they make a jolt of electric energy course through her, making her, suddenly, realise that she was alive and that she wanted to live… tall?... What was it?
“Was it a coaxing ‘you can do it’ or was it a commanding ‘come on woman, get yourself together’ type of statement that made something inside her decide that it had been enough, that she would stand tall, that she would unfold herself, unbend and open herself to him and to the world? (Oppewal-Worship/rcl email list. 2007).
Luke’s story says the leader of the synagogue was indignate,
and has him rebuking Jesus for healing her,
against the Law, on the Sabbath.
Overhearing such a rebuke did it tempt the woman, urge her,
“to roll up in a tight ball again… What is so threatening about her? Is it the tales she might tell or is it the eyes they don’t want to meet because they know what bent her in the first place?...
“How did the people around her react to the look in her eyes, the tallness that suddenly stood over them, the power and strength that seemed to ooze out from somewhere deep inside her. Did they like the new woman? Or would they have preferred the curled up version? (Oppewal-Worship/rcl email list. 2007).
Luke continues to craft his story by having Jesus respond to the leader's complaints by attacking.
The story’s crowds and Luke’s congregation, would have been delighted.
There's nothing people enjoy more than seeing a pompous
and pious official put in their place.
But the untold bit of this story is: Jesus gained another enemy.
For virtuous public service officials don't take kindly to being humiliated.
And Luke weaves this clue into another story later on.
What statement was Luke intending Jesus to make by his actions in this story?
That people are always more important than the law?
That if through the application of the law some innocent human being
comes in for unnecessarily harsh treatment,
then that law should be ignored?
Perhaps too he was saying something about the interpretation of law.
That laws are often capable of wide interpretation,
and should always be interpreted for the good of individuals.
Despite all the hoo-har often reported in the media,
Christianity isn't about keeping the rules, moral rules, so-called biblical rules...
It works in a totally different ball-park.
It's about giving of oneself in love and compassion,
and if that challenges someone elses rules,
go with the love and break the rules.
It's about risking oneself and one’s reputation,
if that should become necessary.
It's about standing up for people,
even if the rules sometimes condemn those people.
The most powerful and life-giving action I believe Jesus took
was to give the ‘bent-over’ woman a new sense of who she was.
After years of being beaten down with the belief that she was of no value,
Jesus affirms her whole sense of being.
What a gift!
What a ‘miracle’!
But I wonder if our storyteller called Luke also went on to re-imagine the woman.
In his storyteller’s heart, did she also discover
“that once you have started to unfurl, once you have set foot on the path of healing there is no way back and there is no stopping either. It will fight itself free, rip things open, tear the bonds asunder, and that it will hurt?” (Oppewal-Worship/rcl email list. 2007).