The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Luke 13:10-17
What I really love about the Gospels is that they’re easy to jump into. It’s easy to relate, to find yourself in them. The rest of the Bible can be very beautiful and obviously very meaningful, but those other parts sometimes take a little more work.
Take today’s Epistle. I had to read it—I don’t know—eight times before I even started to understand what it was actually saying. I read the chapters around it, I looked up its references to the Hebrew Bible and tried to place it in its cultural context, and I was still a little hazy. And I have a Master's degree in this!
Our Isaiah reading today is gorgeous and moving on its own but actually requires quite a bit of context to really understand what’s so powerful about it. As I said a few weeks ago, the exile and return of the people of Jerusalem was a huge turning point for the Jewish people. Isaiah makes even more sense and has even more power when understood through that lens.
But pull a pericope out of the Gospels, and you can drop into it immediately. Part of it is that, as Christians, these stories are so well known to us. But the other part of it is that Jesus is amazing. He’s an amazing teacher. He’s an amazing healer. He’s an amazing prophet. He makes his point powerfully and succinctly, whatever it is.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus is doing his healing thing AND his prophet thing. He sets the bent woman free, and she stands up straight for the first time in 18 years. And when the religious authorities questions him for “working” on the Sabbath, he drops his most stinging insult on them: “you hypocrites!”
Now there are a few places where we can find ourselves in this story. But I know where I want to find myself in this story: with Jesus. I gotta be honest: the vast majority of Facebook and Twitter posts I write begin with an implied “hypocrites!” It’s silent, but everyone knows it’s there. I’m about to call you out. I’m about to tell you what’s wrong, how you’re perpetuating that wrong, and what we need to do to make it right.
Luckily for all my followers, I have a strict personal policy that I sit with a potentially controversial post for at least a few hours before I actually post it. The majority of my “you hypocrites!” posts never see the light of day.
I don’t think I’m the only one who wants to identify with Jesus in this text. Particularly when it comes to enlightening the world on Facebook by calling people out.
We all like to be right. We all like to have Jesus on the side of our opinion. But sometimes, I know I spend more time co-opting Jesus’ religious authority than I do relating to what Jesus is actually talking about—which is healing at any cost. Love at any cost.
We all want to be right, but what we all actually are in today’s reading is the broken, bent woman.
Some of us have newer struggles. New creaks and pains discovered every day as we get older. Ongoing symptoms of a recent illness treated but never quite vanquished. A loved one recently lost, the grief fresh.
And some of us have been struggling for years and years, like the crippled woman. The never-ending battle with chronic pain or mental illness. The long broken relationships with loved ones. For those of us LGBTQ folks, the ongoing fight to be recognized and loved for who we are.
And I don’t think our brokenness is limited to our individual experience. This week, I haven’t been able to stop reading about the fires destroying the Amazon rainforest. This forest is called the lungs of the earth because it produces 20 percent of the oxygen in our planet's atmosphere. Right now, more than one-and-a-half soccer fields of this forest are being destroyed every minute of every day.
Forest fires are part of the natural cycle, but the number and scope of these fire is beyond normal: they’re the product of a warming planet causing drier conditions. They’re the product of mass deforestation.
Our planet is becoming bent and broken. And honestly, I find it hard not to despair. I wonder what life will be like in 20 years. I wonder if Rachel and I should bring a child into this world. I wonder if we’ll change our laws and ways of being to reverse what is happening to our planet.
I wonder if things will ever get better.
I wonder if the bent woman in the gospel despaired. I wonder if she felt resigned to her situation. I wonder if she was long past believing that healing was possible. After all, it had been 18 years.
There’s another place to find ourselves in this Gospel. A place we don’t really want to find ourselves in. With the religious authorities, the hypocrites. Honestly, I think they get a bit of a bad rap. On the surface, they seem like sticklers for a law that doesn’t make sense. “What are you doing, Jesus? It’s the Sabbath! You can’t be healing on the Sabbath!” Why not heal on the Sabbath? We might ask. This woman is suffering! But let’s remember that the Sabbath was a deep and important part of who they were, It had been an integral part of their culture for centuries. They structured their lives around it.
And let’s not kid ourselves: our culture has its particular ways of being that keep us from healing on our proverbial sabbaths.
Some of us have more than enough to live comfortably, maybe even with some money stockpiled in the bank just in case. Including me. Yet I regularly walk past people sleeping on sidewalks and regularly read about children starving in Syria and elsewhere. Collectively, we Americans have the resources to solve these problems. But we don’t.
A huge contributor to the fires in the Amazon is climate change caused by emissions from burning fossil fuels. From driving cars and flying on planes.
Do you still drive a car and fly to visit family or go on vacation? I do.
We have our own ways of life that cause harm but are extremely difficult to change. How do we extricate ourselves from an economy that divides our vast resources so unequally? How do we stop driving when we depend on our cars for survival—to get to work, to go to the grocery store.
The way we handle money, our dependence on cars, they’re both integral parts of our lives. But if our resources were distributed more equitably, if everyone in the world stopped driving today, the chances of our neighbors and our planet being healed would increase exponentially. But we all know it’s not that easy.
The religious authorities thought they were protecting an essential, unchangeable part of their lives when they were protecting the sabbath. And I get it.
When Jesus says “you hypocrites!”, what I actually think he’s saying is, “do you have so little imagination?”
Sometimes, we’ve been living bent over so long that we can’t imagine seeing life from another perspective. Sometimes, our problems feel enormous, inescapable. Like climate change. Sometimes, we’ve gotten so used to certain laws or certain ways of being, that we can’t see how they’re harmful.
Sometimes we think we’re stuck.
The hope Jesus brings is in his invitation for us to imagine a different way. When he healed the woman, he invited her to reimagine her life without despair. When he challenged the religious authorities, he invited them to reimagine what Sabbath means, to wonder what it’s like to live differently. To make room for healing. Our healing and the healing of others, of our world.
Jesus constantly invites us to reimagine our lives so that we can find the places where we do harm without even knowing it, and figure out how we can live differently. Jesus invites us to reimagine our lives so that we can find hope in places of despair, so that we can make room for healing.