Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 16
(RCL) Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Psalm 71:1-6 (Track 2: Isaiah 58:9b-14 and Psalm 103:1-8); Hebrews 12:18-29; Luke 13:10-17
Download large-print version for MS Word
It is a wonder, why, in their infinite wisdom, the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary chose to begin this week’s epistle where they did. The syntax and cadence are difficult enough, without even beginning to look at the content and context thereof. The reading seems to drop right into the middle of an ongoing discussion and retelling of the history of the Hebrew people – referring to the awe-inspiring display of God’s power and presence as Yahweh descended on Mt. Sinai in the fourth and fifth chapters of Deuteronomy. And yet, when we look to the immediately preceding verses, we realize that today’s reading is the beginning of a new thought pattern in the epistle.
The author expects that his audience is well enough acquainted with the history of the Hebrews that there is no explanation or context needed. It is simply necessary to remind the people of how God appeared to their ancestors on Mt. Sinai, in order to contrast with God’s arrival on Mt. Zion. A warning is not, however, far behind, for if they decide to reject the voice of God, now mediated through the blood of Jesus, they will be removed with those created things that will be shaken.
The question might now be asked, How then does Jesus’ rather terse discussion the synagogue leader in the passage from Luke, correlate with the cautionary note that pervades our reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews? Let’s look, briefly, at exactly what actually transpires as a result of Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman.
As the fourth of the Ten Commandments, the Sabbath (or Shabbat) is sacred for the observant Jew and strict rules govern the acceptable activities performed on the Sabbath. The twenty-four hour period – from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday – is marked by the cessation of anything considered work by the religious authorities. The crux of the Sabbath prohibition of work can be found in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In her book, Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner, an Orthodox Jewish convert to Christianity, mentions that:
“Over time, the rabbis teased out of the text just what the prohibition on work meant, first indentifying thirty-nine categories of activities to be avoided on Shabbat, and then fleshing out the implication of those thirty-nine (if one is not to light a fire, for example, one also ought not handle matches or kindling.)”
So this prohibition was not some flip or casual expectation. The sacred nature of the Sabbath was expected to be preserved, at all costs. And yet, as Jesus heals, yet again, on the Sabbath, a distinction is drawn between the accepted view of the religious officials, and millennia of theological interpretation.
One of the things that observant Jews are required to do on the Sabbath is attend worship at the synagogue. It must have taken a herculean effort for the woman in today’s gospel, clearly struggling with a debilitating physical condition, to make it to worship on this day. How difficult would it be for her to follow the synagogue leader’s directive to come back on another day to be healed – which, incidentally, makes the case that we must be very careful to remove as many of the possible obstacles that we can, so that we do not deter those now among us who are struggling with issues of mobility.
Throughout the gospels, Jesus manages to get himself into considerable trouble by healing on the Sabbath. Jesus draws the line in the proverbial sand, confronting the leader’s rebuke of him and laying claim to a higher commandment, that of the two great commandments, of which Jesus speaks in the twenty-second chapter of Matthew: to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and your neighbor as yourself. By indicating the care taken to unbind livestock so that they may continue to live, he pointed to the care that God has taken for this woman, by unbinding her so that she might fully live.
It is clear how easily many in Jesus’ time might become overzealous in their observance of the Sabbath, but today, we see evidence of Jesus leading the people of his time, and ours also, to lay claim to and stand firmly on those things that cannot be shaken, of which our Hebrews reading spoke. For many, the Sabbath might be thought of as one of the things that cannot be shaken, and very truly it is. But Jesus’ healing of the crippled woman and admonition of the synagogue leader indicates that those things done in the service of others for God’s Glory and Purpose are to be done whenever and wherever needed, even on the Sabbath. Jesus seems to be saying with each incident of this Sabbath “work” that when we have the opportunity, regardless of when or where it is, we must do the work that we are given to do – heal, welcome, love, encourage, serve.
The author of Hebrews warns, in verse 25, not to “refuse the one who is speaking,” for that One is about to shake heaven and earth and those things will be removed that are able to be shaken. But we are also reminded that followers of Christ are the inheritors of a kingdom that is unshakable.
That unshakable kingdom is built on the foundation of Jesus, his establishment of the new covenant that is based, not simply on obedience to a set of rules, but on engaged and inspired reactions to the great love of the One God. It is to this God that we are invited to come and join in the celebration of the angels in the heavenly Jerusalem, it is to this God that we give thanks and worship and honor and glory.
We are called into relationship with the God who shows power in loving acts of healing that break the bounds of our understanding and comprehension. It is, founded upon the unshakeable love of God, made accessible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
The collect for this Sunday prays that we might be able to show God’s power to all people. It also reminds us that we can only be gathered together in unity, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In our prayer and praise this day, we have reconnected ourselves to the power that God makes available to us. Having received this gift, we are asked to give it away in loving and healing acts of service to those whom God sends to us. Look around and see the people that God has sent to be present with us on this day. Take note of those, who for whatever reason, are not with us today. Use the power granted by God’s Grace and make sure that those folks are made to feel the healing love that God has for them, through you. Take care to move with the joy that comes through our relationship with Christ and allow ourselves to be consumed by the fire of God’s love and join with the crowd that witnessed Jesus’ Sabbath work of healing and rejoice at all the wonderful things Jesus is doing still.