Luke 6:6-11 – Every Day is Meant for Doing Good

On another Sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shriveled. The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath. But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So, he got up and stood there.

Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus. (New International Version)

Lectio Divina is an ancient Latin term which means “spiritual reading.”  It means to read Holy Scripture not just to know its contents, but to experience its power to restore, heal, transform, and draw close to God.

Lectio Divina is a simple way to prayerfully read Scripture, meditate on its message, and listen for what God may be saying for us to do. It can be done privately, or with a small group of people. The goal is to become more Christ-like.

Lectio Divina is based upon reading a selected text of Scripture three times. Each reading is followed by a period of silence after which each person is given the opportunity to briefly share what they are hearing as they listen to God (if done in a group).

For today’s Gospel lesson, I invite you to give it three different readings, as is common to a Lectio Divina approach:

  1. In the first reading, read the text aloud slowly and carefully. Listen for a word, phrase or idea that captures you attention. As you recognize a word, phrase or idea, focus your attention on it, repeating it several times.
  2. In the second reading, focus your attention on how the selected word, phrase or idea speaks to your life right now. What does it mean for you today? How is Christ speaking to you about your life through this word, phrase or idea?
  3. In the third reading, focus on what God is calling you to do or to become. Experiencing God’s presence changes us. It calls us to something. What is that something?

So, here are my reflections from reading today’s Gospel lesson three times:

  1. In my first reading, the phrase “watched him closely” stood out to me. As I sat and pondered this phrase, I thought about how there are always people watching us. How I live my life, and what I say, are continually on display. Mostly, this is a good thing, because I believe that modeling an authentic and devout life to Christ is important. Yet, whenever someone is watching us closely, in the sense of continually looking over our shoulder, or scrutinizing every word and action so as to find fault, this is a very bad thing.
  2. In my second reading, I hear God speaking to me about how Jesus experienced this bad sort of watching, and yet, he did not let it deter him from doing good and following through on what is right by healing a man on the Sabbath. In fact, Christ confidently had the man with the shriveled hand stand up in front of everyone. He wanted the entire congregation, including those who were watching him with judgmental eyes, to see exactly what he was doing. Jesus neither healed him quietly nor waited till after the synagogue service was over; he was very open about what was happening.
  3. In my third reading, I felt Jesus beside me – not looking for something to correct or chastise me about – but rather putting his arm around my shoulder, knowing exactly what it feels like to be the object of criticism, scorn, and malevolent plotting against. I sense my solidarity with Christ, my union with him, believing that nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ, my Savior and Lord, who always has my back. I hear Jesus graciously calling me to stand firm and openly do what is good and right, every day, no matter who is watching or why they are watching.

Today’s Gospel lesson shows us Christ’s disapproval of those who focus so narrowly on the traditions and laws of religion that they end up losing sight of God’s message.

For the Christian, the message is a gospel of grace, not condemnation. Jesus challenges the legalistic way of keeping the Sabbath holy by asking a penetrating question: “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath rather than to do evil, to save life rather than to destroy it?”

By showing compassion to the man with the withered hand, Jesus points us to a way of holiness that’s a whole lot more than keeping the law and performing rituals.

By healing the man, Jesus teaches us to respond to God’s call to do good and save lives. Traditions should never interfere with our compassion for those in need.

“If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

James 4:17

If you haven’t already done so, give the Lectio Divina a healthy try – because God is always speaking to us; we just need to be still and silent in order to hear.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, and grant me your peace. Amen.

Luke 13:10-17 – Healing on the Sabbath

Jesus Healing the Bent-Over Woman by Glenda Skinner-Noble

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. (New International Version)

The way in which we interpret events says a lot about who we are and what we need. The story sounds different, depending upon which person(s) are viewing it….

The Crippled Woman

She had gotten used to looking at people out of the corner of her eye, by looking up and sideways.

After eighteen years, she could hardly remember any other way of seeing the world. On this particular Sabbath, there was a special excitement at the synagogue, where she regularly went to worship. A Galilean preacher and prophet, Jesus of Nazareth, had arrived in town and would be teaching there.

She and the others in town had heard reports about Jesus–how he talked about God’s reign arriving soon and how he healed sick people. She was not sure how many of the rumors to believe, but she was trying not to get her hopes up. Her life already had too many disappointments to count.

When she entered the synagogue, the place was abuzz. As Jesus began to teach, however, the room was hushed. Moments later, his words turned from teaching to invitation. He had caught her eye–no mean feat, given that he had to lean over and incline his head to do so. “Come here,” he said to her. She slowly made her way to the front of the assembly.

Jesus and the Bent-Over Woman by Marg Mowczko

What happened next amazed the whole congregation. “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When this man, Jesus, spoke those words and put his hands on her broken, bent body, she felt power surge through her. Without hesitation, she straightened her once crooked back. She stood tall and praised her God . . .

The Synagogue Leader

He has come to the synagogue every Saturday. Each Sabbath day the synagogue leader stands and faithfully reads the Torah. On this particular Sabbath, a Galilean preacher is coming. Some say his is a prophet, even Messiah. The leader has seen his share of would-be messiahs come and go, claiming to speak for God. He doubts anything will come of this. Just another man.

But what is this? A synagogue full of people! And just as the leader thought this may just be good for the people, getting them to pay attention to the law and the prophets, this preacher calls a woman forward, and of all things, heals her!? This is not good. This is not how things are to be done!

In the Torah, the seventh day was set aside by God for Israel’s rest. Work is prohibited. Non-life-threatening illnesses and conditions can be treated on the other six days. The synagogue leader is not opposed to healing. In fact, he welcomes it. But at an appropriate time, on the right day. He says to himself, “This all must be done decently and in order. Who does Jesus think he is? We cannot have such insubordination amongst the people, and in the synagogue, of all places!”

And so, the synagogue leader is beside himself with both anger and fear that the Law will not be properly upheld, and that God will be displeased and take away their place of worship.

Coptic Church depiction of Jesus healing the crippled woman, 12th century

Jesus

Jesus comes, looking forward to being with the people in the synagogue on the Sabbath. He understands that since the Sabbath law commemorates and celebrates Israel’s liberation, it ought to be a day for enacting — not inhibiting — the present-day liberation of Israelites. Yes, it is a good day for a healing. Every day is a good day for healing.

As Jesus enters the synagogue, it is full of people, charged with the atmosphere of anticipation. During the service, Jesus sees a woman. Although he rightly discerns that the synagogue leader and some of the congregants will not be happy about this, he calls her forward, intent on freeing her from her satanic bondage. And also knowing that placing his hands upon this woman will appear scandalous, he does it anyway.

Sure enough, the synagogue leader is livid. The leader feels the need to correct Jesus. Yet, Jesus unmoved by this, calmly retorts, without budging an inch, that given the custom of providing water for thirsty livestock on the Sabbath, it is surely appropriate to heal a long-suffering Israelite on the Sabbath.

In none of this does Jesus abolish the Sabbath commandment. Rather he follows it faithfully. Jesus enters an ongoing Jewish debate about how to interpret the Sabbath law, locating himself at the less stringent end of the opinion spectrum.

Jesus is determined to uphold the spirit of the Law, to practice compassion, to do what leads to human betterment. He is doing God’s will. He is allowing the Sabbath to serve this old woman, rather than letting the woman serve the Sabbath as a bent over crippled person.

The People

They come, as they do each Sabbath, to gather and listen to Torah read, to pray to God, and to strengthen one another in their common faith. Yes, the synagogue leader can be a bit tedious. The synagogue service can be a bit boring. But he is a good man doing good work.

Today, however, is different. Jesus, the one they have heard so much about, is there. And what a synagogue service it is! Jesus teaches us, and with authority! But, to our astonishment, he calls one of our women forward. And he touches her! Then heals her! This is the woman who has been tortured with such crippling pain and bent over all the time!

Oh, my, the synagogue leader is upset! We are so full of joy for our healed sister, yet also confused. This is a good thing that Jesus did – God’s kingdom breaking into this world. Yet, here is the synagogue leader and Jesus debating Torah. Does freedom from Satan only come on six days, not seven? Surely, God is especially honored on such a holy day as the Sabbath to do such important work. But work, it is. And Jesus did it. Is this really a good thing, or not?

Syrian Church depiction of Jesus and the crippled woman, 6th century

Conclusion

This is a story about the role and function of our religious traditions, our claims about what could and should be practiced, when and where it ought to take place, and who is allowed within the walls of our faith communities. Special religious practices may become hindrances to including folks. We must be diligent to recognize what theological ideas we hold dear that disallow full participation from others.

Jesus was no Sabbath breaker. He operated well within Jewish tradition of the day. At the same time Christ is also not one to allow the tradition to exclude people from access to the community and the potential for their healing. Even though the synagogue leader and some others disagreed, many in the crowd agreed.

Today’s story is about the community and addresses questions such as, “What kind of community do we want to be?” “Do our religious traditions help us to become that kind of community or do they hinder it?” “If we want to be a healing community, how can we make that happen?”

O God the Father, whose will for us and for all your people is health and salvation, O God the Son, who came that we might have life and have it in abundance, O God the Holy Spirit, whose indwelling makes our bodies the temples of your presence, have mercy on us.

O Triune God, we pray you to hear us, and that you will grant your grace to all who stand in need of healing of both of body and spirit, and lead them to look with confidence in you;

That you will grant patience and perseverance to all who are disabled by injury or illness, and increase their courage;

That you will grant peace to all who are troubled by confusion or pain, and set their minds at rest;

That you will grant relief from suffering to all sick children, and give them a sure sense of your tender love and care;

That you will grant rest to all whose increasing years bring weariness, distress, or loneliness, and give them the abiding comfort of your presence;

That you will grant confidence to all about to undergo surgery or difficult procedures, and keep them free from fear;

That you will grant purpose to the church as it seeks to carry on Christ’s ministry of healing to suffering humanity, and keep it always true to the gospel of Christ;

That you will grant skill and compassion to doctors, nurses, technicians, aides, and all who are called to  practice medical arts, and make strong their dedication to help others;

That you will grant to all people the peace of quiet sleep and the joy of resting in your everlasting arms, that we may rejoice in your care while we are on earth, and in the world to come, have eternal life.

O God, who in Jesus Christ called us out of darkness into your marvelous light; enable us always to declare your wonderful deeds, thank you for your steadfast love, and praise your with heart, soul, mind, and strength, now and forever. Amen.

Luke 6:1-5 – Lord of the Sabbath

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and his disciples began to pick some heads of grain, rub them in their hands and eat the kernels. Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Jesus answered them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” (New International Version)

We Christians tend to be rather hard on the Pharisees. Yet, most of them, much like us, were just trying to uphold their understanding of God’s commands. They wanted to do God’s will. And so did Jesus.

The problem in the New Testament Gospels is that Jesus and some of the Pharisees (not all of them, e.g., Nicodemus) were at loggerheads about how to view and interpret the Law. Jesus wanted them to see the purpose of the law, the heart and spirit of the law, and who was the lord of the law. For Jesus, many of the Pharisees were spiritually blind. They either would not or could not discern who Jesus was and what he was all about.

So, when we refer to spiritual blindness, let’s have a bit of humility about it. Although for the Apostle Paul, a dramatic event happened in which the scales of blindness (both physically and spiritually) fell from his eyes, most folks have a gradual ability to see, an awakening which requires a process of time and growing awareness. This was true of Christ’s original disciples. They believed, yet their faith was an extended process over three years. It wasn’t until after Christ’s resurrection and Pentecost that their faith became complete.

Christ and the Pharisees by Belgian artist Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)

Jesus didn’t like it that those who should know better, those persons for whom the light of God’s truth ought to be clear and present, were in darkness. When leaders are blind, then we have the blind leading the blind, and nobody finds the door of God’s kingdom.

Many of the Pharisees in the New Testament, most of the heretics in the early church, and some of the spiritual phonies of today are actually not charlatans, that is, they are not deliberately trying to deceive or lead others astray; they are not trying to keep people out of God’s kingdom – they think they are doing the right thing when they are actually leading others astray. 

One of the eye-opening realities I discovered, when I first began studying church history, is that the early heresies condemned at the church councils were doctrines promoted and put forth by men who were not evil bad people – they were just sincerely misguided. They thought they were helping the church better understand the nature of God and Christ, when in fact they were promoting unhealthy doctrine – unintentionally closing the door of God’s kingdom to some people. 

And later when I worked on my master’s thesis in nineteenth century American religious history, I read hundreds of sermons from southern preachers before the American Civil War. I learned that they had a biblical defense for the institution of black chattel slavery. Many of them were pastors of large churches and led many people to Christ, that is, white people. They were slamming the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of African-Americans, and teaching others to do the same.

We can unwittingly slam the door of God’s kingdom in the faces of people when we say God’s grace is for all and then turn around and avoid particular people; or whenever we have explicit written statements or rules that exclude people from serving or being served; or when we bind people to human traditions and practices instead of Holy Scripture. 

The seven deadly words of the Church, believing it is doing the Lord’s will, is, “We’ve-never-done-it-that-way-before… We cannot have somebody out in the field picking heads of grain and rubbing them in their hands. That’s reaping; it’s work; and you can’t do that on the Sabbath.”

Never mind that there are people trying to eat or attempting to enter the kingdom of God. So, we lose sight that the Law was meant to benefit people, to help them thrive and flourish, to lead them into the grace and knowledge of God. The Law gets turned on its head by becoming a heavy burden to carry instead of an easy yolk which brings freedom.

No matter the issue, the last word to everything is grace, God’s grace in Jesus Christ.  

Just as the priest in David’s day was gracious in giving him and his men the consecrated bread meant only for the priests, so Jesus was gracious in giving himself, the Bread of Life, for the benefit of the whole world.

For the Christian, the Law points to Christ, who is the Law’s fulfillment. Now, we carry one another’s burdens, and in doing so, we fulfill the Law of Christ.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful: Make us holy through your abiding divine presence. Enlighten the minds of your people more and more with the light of the everlasting Gospel. Bring erring souls to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ; and those who are walking in the way of life, keep them steadfast in faith to the end.

Give patience to the sick and afflicted and renew them in body and soul. Guard those who are strong and prosperous from forgetting you. Increase in us your many gifts of grace and make us all fruitful in good works. This we ask, O blessed Spirit, whom with the Father and the Son we worship and glorify, one God, world without end. Amen.

Leviticus 23:1-8 – There’s More to Life Than Work

The Lord said to Moses: Speak to the Israelites and say to them: These are my appointed times, the Lord’s appointed times, which you will declare to be holy occasions: Work can be done for six days, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of special rest, a holy occasion. You must not do any work on it; wherever you live, it is a Sabbath to the Lord. These are the Lord’s appointed times, holy occasions, which you will celebrate at their appointed times:

The Lord’s Passover is on the fourteenth day of the first month at twilight. The Lord’s Festival of Unleavened Bread is on the fifteenth day of the same month. You must eat unleavened bread for seven days. On the first day you will hold a holy occasion and must not do any job-related work. You will offer food gifts to the Lord for seven days. The seventh day will be a holy occasion; you must not do any job-related work. (Common English Bible)

When I was kid, watching the cartoon The Jetsons was a Saturday morning ritual. The futuristic family featured George the husband and father, an employee of Spacely Sprockets. 

In one episode, George comes home and is met by his dog, Astro, and wife, Jane, looking tired and haggard from a day’s work. George’s comment when he entered on the treadmill through the door was, “Jane, these 3-hour work-days are killing me!”

Indeed, the technological progress of post-World War II America had led to the common belief among many that with so many advancements, workdays would become smaller, with leisure time growing. In the 1960’s, it seemed a foregone conclusion that technology would provide the masses with unprecedented amounts of discretionary time for whatever they would want to do.

Sixty years removed from The Jetsons, and we now know what Americans and people across the world would do with time-saving devices: We simply work a lot more. 

Just the opposite has occurred from having loads of leisure time. People discovered that greater efficiency with technology has brought an equal competition for business and making more money. Time saved has translated into accomplishing more work, and not in taking vacations or indulging in new hobbies and ventures.

The fourth command of God’s Ten Commandments is needed today more than ever. It is high time that we come back to this basic instruction of the Lord and engraft its wise counsel into our lives. 

The point of God’s command for a Sabbath-rest is neither to squash commerce, nor to be a curmudgeon about fencing one day a week of doing nothing. Instead, the Sabbath command is designed to be a life-giving day where we discover that: There is more to life than work.

The word “Sabbath” literally means “to rest.” God built into creation a rhythm of rest and work. God rested, not because of being tired but so that there was enjoyment of the earth and everything in it. 

Everything in life is done in rhythm. We walk in rhythm, talk in rhythm, and our hearts beat in a rhythm. The earth cycles in rhythmic seasons of the year, and the animal kingdom mates and lives in annual rhythms. All creation is rhythmic.

Whenever we keep going and do not live according to the rhythm laid out for all of God’s creatures, we break. Therefore: Rest from work is needed.

Even machinery needs a break. I find it more than ironic that we treat our cars and vehicles with the regular maintenance and care that we don’t even extend to ourselves. We care for our cars because we don’t want to experience a breakdown on the highway. Yet, much more important is the care of our souls and our bodies. 

Without regular intervals of work and rest, in a consistent rhythmic pattern, we breakdown, burnout, and, like little children who have missed a nap, we have epic meltdowns of anger, frustration, and passive-aggressive behavior because we simply ignored God’s fourth command.

“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”

Maya Angelou

Legalistic observances of the Sabbath miss the point through a continual, “Don’t do this, don’t do that, can’t do anything fun on Sunday,” as if God were some divine curmudgeon who frowns with a deeply furrowed brow at anything happy on the Sabbath. (Mark 2:23-3:6) 

To rest means to have a change of pace from the regular weekday activity of work. To rest and enjoy the difference of a Sabbath’s day is avoided by so many people because it brings this question to the forefront of our minds: Who am I if I’m not working?

Our identities can be so tied to our jobs that we compulsively check our multiple e-mail accounts on a day off; tie ourselves to our smart phones and iPhones on vacation; and allow work to bleed into our time away from the job. 

God has wisely placed loving boundaries around us. But like Adam and Eve, who were not content with enjoying the entire garden, we obsessively pluck the forbidden fruit from the one tree that is off limits.

Work brings money, influence, power, relationships, industry, and a host of good things. The problem is not work; the problem is that we humans can create an idol of it.

Whenever work and all that comes with it, consumes our attention, we are on a one-way road to nowhere. I have heard many deathbed confessions. I’ve yet to hear anyone wish they had worked more.

No, the confessions typically involve something out of rhythm and out of whack – that they let their jobs and their ambitions surrounding work call the shots in life, without stopping to enjoy the vast creation, the gifts of God, and the emotional wealth that can come from relationships.

“If we only stop when we are finished with all our work, we will never stop, because our work is never completely done… Sabbath… liberates us from the need to be finished.”

Wayne Muller

Because we aren’t sure who we are if we’re not working, we just keep working. If we feel bad, we work harder.  If things are tough at home, we just put more hours in at work. If we need more money, we pick up a part-time job. 

When work becomes the catch-all answer to our many problems, it has become our god and we will worship at the altar of money and activity… until we can learn to stop and rest. 

One day out of seven. Just one-seventh of your life is needed to allow a divine rhythm into your existence. 

The temptation, however, is to take a day off from work so that you can do other work at home. So, the challenge, for many people, is to allow the one day of the weekend to be the time you get stuff done, and another day to truly rest.

This is not easy. For me, it is terribly hard. I can easily slide into working seven days a week for weeks, even months, at a time. Few people bat an eye at my constant working, except my wife and a few friends. In fact, many people seem impressed when I work all the time. But what gets lost in all this is God’s grace to us through rest.

God wants enjoyment, not avoidance – for us to be still and know God. The Lord longs for us to connect with the Divine. This means we must plan and prepare for it. Maybe we need to put God on our calendars, to make an appointment with God like we would anyone else. That will often involve being out in God’s big creation.

Whenever we get down to practicing the Sabbath, we find that the world didn’t stop. Then, when we return to work, we discover that the earth is still spinning on its axis. 

Life doesn’t cease when we submit to a Sabbath rest; it’s just that we cease from participating in it for a short time. Our delusions of grandeur dissipate and disappear when we finally come around to consistently obeying a good old Sabbath rest.

Work is noble. But there is nothing noble about working without rest. 

We are still human beings when we aren’t making money, and still valuable when we don’t have jobs. Folks in healthcare facilities aren’t any less important because they no longer hold a job. Work doesn’t define us – God’s image within us does. 

It’s unlikely that we’ll ever see a George Jetson 3-hour workday, and that’s probably a good thing. Work’s inherent goodness can only be truly appreciated when we plan and prepare to live and enjoy a Sabbath’s day rest. 

Because I belong to you, God, and not to myself,
I will rest from worrying about the future
and rest in your never-ending divine presence;
I will rest from frustration at things not working out as I want them to;
I will rest from fear
and rest in my experience of courage when days are hard.
I will rest from complaining
and rest in the beauty and pleasure all around me.
For the Lord’s yoke is easy and his burden is light,
and I will find rest for my soul. Amen.