Devotional Message: The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 16C (8/25/2019)

Revised Common Lectionary Texts

Isaiah 58:9b-14
Psalm 103:1-8 (4)
Hebrews 12:18-29
St. Luke 13:10-17

Semicontinuous First Reading and Psalm

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6

Prayer of the Day

O God, mighty and immortal, you know that as fragile creatures surrounded by great dangers, we cannot by ourselves stand upright. Give us strength of mind and body, so that even when we suffer because of human sin, we may rise victorious through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

13:10 Now [Jesus] 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. 12When 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.

St. Luke 13:10-17, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Message: “Set Free!”

“Let’s have some order around here!”

I really don’t think the leader of this synagogue is a bad or faithless person. After all, if anything productive is going to happen, there has to be some semblance of order. And this person is who the community appointed to help make that happen. It sounds like a prestigious position, but I wonder if led to an awful lot of thankless work. Synagogues were notoriously chaotic scenes; not the quiet, contemplative setting we sometimes imagine. There were people praying, reading scripture, singing, talking with each other, moving around, and all at the same time! If there wasn’t someone in charge of putting order to this, it might devolve into a setting that was of no use to anyone.

So one fine Sabbath day Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. He probably is holding forth in the area set aside for teaching, with an assembly of students listening to him, and taking note (in their minds, if not on their iPads…) of what he has to say. He is in the middle of a lesson, perhaps even expounding on the wisdom of Isaiah’s 58th chapter:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday. 

All of a sudden there she is, in the midst of them: a perfect illustration of what he is describing. A woman whose physical challenges have ailed her and inhibited her for eighteen whole years. Removing the yoke from among God’s people? Satisfying the needs of the afflicted? Replacing the darkness of this world with the light of God? Here it is! With a word, Jesus frees her from what bound her, and she immediately begins to praise God. If this isn’t what a synagogue is for — doing the work of God in the mist of faithful people, and eliciting praise — then what is?

The synagogue leader can’t see it. “There are six other perfectly acceptable days for this kind of work. Can’t you come back tomorrow and do this? Why can’t you conform? Why can’t you fit in with the way we expect things to happen?” But the people get it: “… the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that [Jesus] was doing.”

Sometimes our best laid plans can get in the way of the Holy Spirit, which is like a wind that “blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.” (St. John 3:8) Thanks be to God for those moments when our efforts at creating order and predictability get out of the way, and make room for the presence of God to blow in and set us free!

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What does St. Luke seek to teach us about Jesus by including this account in his Gospel?

  2. Why is the leader of the synagogue upset with Jesus?

  3. What does Jesus teach the crowd (and the leader of the synagogue) about how to honor the Sabbath?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel

  1. How do I understand the presence of God, and the way it touches my life?

  2. When have I become distracted by my sense of order, and missed something extraordinary?

  3. How might I become more able to glimpse the extraordinary ways God is at work in my world?