Luke 13:10-17 – “Freed Into Rest [or Jewish Patriarchs through Moses in 2 Minutes or Less]”
August 25, 2013 – Caitlin Trussell
Augustana Lutheran Church, Denver, CO
Luke 13:10-17 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 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. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14 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.” 15 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? 16 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?” 17 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.
I’m going to show my hand and let you know straight out of the gate that my sympathies lie with the leader of the synagogue. Not because there are parallels between his position and my own as pastor – that would be way too easy of a target; plus it would leave you all out of it which basically means I’d be preaching to only myself which I can do on any old day without you sitting here while I do it.
To give us some understanding of the leader of the synagogue, think with me for a bit about the history of our Jewish cousins and our common ancestors of faith. The story of Abraham and Sarah gives us the courageous travelers, uprooted by God and sent to a land far away. We can appreciate the romantic adventure of their tale from beginning to end; or we could read it through the hard lens of being migrants and immigrants. Regardless, they were free people.
Sarah and Abraham’s son Isaac and the shenanigans of Isaac’s sons Jacob and Esau lead us right into the Joseph story. Joseph, the favorite son sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, ends up second-in-command of Egypt – saving his band of brothers as the sun sets dreamily in Egypt over the happy family reunion. Okay, that last part smacks of Hollywood cinematography but you get the picture. We get to end of the book of Genesis on a high as Joseph, with his dying breath, tells his brothers once more about God’s promises. So far, these are great stories of deeply flawed people but wildly free people.
We can literally turn the page to the book of Exodus and all manner of hell has broken loose. Hundreds of years have passed, the new king does not know Joseph, and has no appreciation for the numerous descendents of Joseph and his eleven brothers. “The Egyptians came to dread the Israelites…and became ruthless in imposing tasks on [them], and made their lives bitter with hard service.” These were hard times that lead to harder times that led to Moses’ leading the Israelites out of slavery to the Egyptians into…well, the wilderness. But they were a free people there! They were a free people who were given laws – laws given by God to preserve life and protect people’s relationships with God and each other.
Some of you could likely come up with the ten big laws, a.k.a. the Ten Commandments. The one I’m really interested in this morning is the third one. After being told to have no other gods and to not misuse the name of God, comes commandment number three to:
“Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”
Just sit for a moment with this and think about how huge it must have sounded to a newly freed people who were freed from ruthlessly imposed tasks and bitter lives of hard service. Just imagine that. It’s difficult at best to understand the magnitude of the freedom given by this law. At worst, our understanding of it becomes blasé in our current context of labor laws, workers’ rights, and weekends off. But for the Jewish people of the 1st century, keeping Sabbath meant to be freed into rest by the law of God! Freed into rest. Take a breath on that one for a minute. Freed into rest….
The leader of the synagogue would have worked very hard to make sure that the people followed this law because it was for their good and for their God. This doesn’t mean he had pure motives when confronted by Jesus’ healing the woman. It’s a given that he didn’t. But it does mean that the Sabbath being held up by the leader of the synagogue is a good thing. So then where does it go awry for the synagogue leader?
Listen again to the beginning of the story:
“ 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.”
Jesus is teaching away, he sees this woman who he can help and so he does. The problem is that Jesus does this on a day when there is a rule of law about work; a rule of law that has the big history and current meaning of being freed into rest. And the leader of the synagogue becomes indignant on behalf of this law, starts talking to the people about coming to be cured on any other day but the Sabbath, and gets an earful from Jesus. Not just any old earful, but a shaming earful.
Jesus clearly did not get the current parenting advice about public shaming. You may have heard some of this advice. If your child or grandchild or someone else’s child is up to no good, you are to talk to the child privately to preserve their dignity and create a safe space. It’s good advice. It’s even wise advice. It’s advice that applies well to adults too. Jesus didn’t get the memo. While I feel for the leader of the synagogue, I’m grateful for what comes next in the story because then Jesus makes an interesting move that actually isn’t about shaming. It’s an exegetical move – a move that interprets scriptural law as it has been handed down through the centuries and lived out in that synagogue, a move that breathes new life into the law.
The leader of the synagogue had become so bound into the law, the law was no longer doing its job of preserving life and people’s relationships with God and each other. Jesus’ interpretation of the law frees the law so that, at least the woman, could be freed by the law. I like to think that the leader of the synagogue took some time later to ponder the moves that Jesus makes in the synagogue – first freeing the woman from that which binds her, then freeing the law from the person who would try to bind it, and, maybe, just maybe, freeing the lead of the synagogue, the very one who would bind the law.
My sympathies lie with the leader of the synagogue because we can get curved in on ourselves and the law in the same way. We are given a law to preserve life and protect people’s relationships with God and with each other. And then we bind up that law, playing a kind of keep-away game between Jesus and law, wondering what will happen to that which we hold dear if we are compelled to a different interpretation of the law – slavery and the role of women in the church are two recent historical examples. It is into this bound up, curled up mess that Jesus saves by the power of the Spirit. Calling us on all the ways in which we bind ourselves and each other into the law and freeing us back into the law as a place of rest.
For this and for all that Jesus has done and is doing, thanks be to God!
 David Lose, “Dear Working Preacher” for Sunday, August 25, 2013. http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=2699
 Genesis 12-20.
 Genesis 21-34.
 Genesis 35-50.
 Exodus 1:12-13, New Revised Standard Version.
 In Jewish tradition, the commandment to keep the Sabbath is number four. Luther’s Small Catechism lists it third.
 Exodus 20:8-11, New Revised Standard Version.