Homily for Ordinary Sunday 21C

In Uncategorized on August 22, 2010 at 11:46 am

We live in the era of Sunday shopping.
It’s got to the point that I pleasantly note
when a business is not open 7 days a week.
That is, unless it’s a Sunday and I feel some urgent need.
Funny how many “urgent needs” have arisen
since seven day trading came along 18 years ago…

We used to revere Sunday as the Sabbath, back in the good old days.
Although the fact is that Sunday is not the Shabbath
but the Lord’s day, the day of Resurrection.
The first and mystical eighth day of the week.
The day we are reborn and know our liberation
in the light of an eternal dawn.

Which is all very poetic, you might think.

Let’s look at our gospel.
A woman is healed.
A woman whose condition has seen her bent double for eighteen years.
Intriguingly chiming with the age of our Sunday trading laws.
A woman, probably not even able to look Jesus in the face,
is healed, without a word passing her lips.

She doesn’t even ask.
People are always asking Jesus for healing,
one woman even had to argue that she should be healed.
Yet this woman does not.
It’s clear, though,
as she straightens her hunched body and praises God,
that she has been waiting for deliverance.
Jesus says to her, simply and powerfully:
“Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

That’s one part of the story,
but not actually the one that occupies most attention.
It’s the response of the leader of the synagogue where all this takes place;
the synagogue – forerunner of this type of gathered community,
where people meet to worship and read the Scriptures and hear teaching
– it’s his response that is the foundation for the teaching in this story.
Because this happens on the Sabbath.

The community is particularly gathered on the Sabbath,
and it is on this day that Jesus heals.
Of the Ten Commandments, the fourth is this:
Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.
Six days you shall labour and do all your work.
But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God: you shall not do any work.

The leader of the synagogue says to the people
that Jesus’ behaviour is simply not on.
They could come and be cured on any of the other days.
The sabbath is not for work.

Notice he addresses the crowd, not Jesus.
He does not acknowledge what he has just witnessed, this miracle, at all.
Instead he argues a point of cannon law.
He has so much invested in his synagogue and system
and the sabbath the way he sees it,
he not only doesn’t see the human need right in front of him,
he completely misses the moment
when a sign of the kingdom breaks in to his world.

The Sabbath was not simply a day.
It was a symbol.
The sabbath was what made the Jewish people
distinct from all the other peoples around them.
Other peoples did not have one day off a week.
They had holy days, but not like this.
More than that, in the Old Testament,
that Commandment to remember the sabbath
is tied not just to creation, when God rested on the seventh day,
but also to the redemption of the people of God from slavery in Egypt.
The sabbath is about liberation and restoration.

And here in our gospel passage, on the sabbath,
what does Jesus offer this woman bent double?
This daughter of Abraham?
This woman who did not presume to ask to be healed?
“Woman”, says Jesus, “you are set free from your ailment”.
The word in the Greek is the verb luo.
The classic New Testament word for liberation of every sort.
The word used to describe untying an animal.
To set free from bondage.

Jesus is not just saying by his actions
that it’s alright to do this on the sabbath day,
because the law of compassion overrules the strict interpretation of sabbath
offered by the leader of the synagogue.

Jesus is offering a sign,
that the sabbath is the most appropriate time to liberate,
and to demonstrate that the Kingdom of God is breaking into the world
for those who can but see.
The Messiah of God is pointing to the real meaning of the sabbath,
restoring this woman to the full humanity of her creation,
in the image of God.

Re-creation, in its most literal sense.

And what of our world, with Sunday shopping and the choices we make?
If our day of gathering, this Sunday, the Lord’s day, is a symbol,
what is it a symbol of?
Surely that same liberation, that weekly celebration of our Easter faith,
of our redemption from bondage, our restoration as the people of God.

How do we live that faith?
I’m guilty of popping down to the supermarket on a Sunday.
I got myself in trouble in Fiji when I went fishing on a Sunday.
(My fishing prowess is such, that nobody should really have been concerned.
Certainly no fish were harmed that day).
Those for me are more the concerns of the synagogue leader.

What Jesus is concerned about is life in all its fullness.
Those whose families are hurt by parents working weekends.
Those whose sweat and poverty
manufactures so much of what we buy and consume.
Who will see those, here and far away, who are bent double in need, unnoticed?
Who will proclaim liberation, good news, real hope, to them?
Who will lift a hand to untie them?

Jesus reserves his harshest criticism for those who say one thing, and do another.
Who proclaim redemption, and keep people imprisoned.
Who would untie an animal of use to them,
but wouldn’t acknowledge a person set free.

How then will we live?
Healing in Jesus’ presence
is about shining light on the unnoticed and the self-deceived.
May we respond, with eyes newly opened, with justice awakened,
with compassion alive to the needs of the world.  Amen.


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