Sermon by The Rev Kathy McAdams
August 25, 2019 - Proper 16C
St John's Episcopal Church, Franklin, MA
We read earlier in Luke, that Jesus is sent to set the captives free, and this is exactly what he does in today’s Gospel. Jesus unties a woman who has been bound up by a crippling ailment…bound up by Satan, says Jesus. He performs this healing on the Sabbath - the day that in his culture is set aside for worship and study, the day on which work is prohibited by religious law. But he performs the healing on this day, because that’s the day on which the woman comes to him. Why should he make her wait one more day to be healed from something that has afflicted her for eighteen years? But the religious authorities castigate him for this compassionate act. The religious authorities criticize the Son of God for breaking a law which they attribute to God. There’s some irony in there somewhere.
There are several important points to this story, I think:
First, the story is about a woman. Men in Jesus’ time weren’t supposed to talk to women alone, and especially not in the Synagogue, and especially not touching. But Jesus breaks this social norm, too. In ministering to this woman, he shows that the salvation he brings is not just for men, not just for any one group of people, but his salvation is for everyone.
Second, the woman responds to her healing by praising God. That is the appropriate response to being healed or given any gift – to praise God aloud, that others may also know of God’s power. Her praise is contrasted with the religious leader who wants to keep God in a box - to keep God contained within the confines of laws and days of the week, seemingly to control God’s power. These things serve to separate him from God, whereas the woman is living within God’s presence. So Jesus unbinds God, as well.
Finally, Jesus is a reformer. He resists Jewish law…a law thought to be written by God…a law thought to be necessarily followed in order to achieve salvation. Jesus justifies his actions by stating that it is legal to untie an animal on the Sabbath, so why not untie a human being?
There is never a wrong day to offer compassion and healing to another human being; every day is the right day for that. The law that God puts in each of our hearts is greater than any law that can be written down. This new law, the New Covenant in Jesus, calls for justice, compassion and love above all else. When we encounter laws or institutions that are counter to this higher law, it is our duty as Christians to advocate for change.
This year, a number of volunteers with No More Deaths, and other humanitarian organizations, have been convicted of crimes for leaving jugs of water and cans of food in the desert along the US-Mexico border. They were willing to face prison time in order to prevent the deaths of migrants who cross that desert. Since the year 2000, more than 2100 migrants have died in that sun-scorched region of southern Arizona (according to Humane Borders). Just a few weeks ago, a group of youth from our diocese travelled to Arizona and committed the same humane act in the name of Jesus, who, when confronted with hoards of migrant people, told them to sit down and eat.
Each of us, no matter how young, old, poor, or uneducated, is able to effect change. And all of us together are a force to be reckoned with. But more powerful than that is all of us with God. In transforming unjust systems, we just might find ourselves transformed as well.