Luke 13:10-17 “Teaching Faith--Free From Bondage”
No, Saint Luke, you cannot do that to us again! Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who is telling a great story when all of the sudden they condense the story, passing by what YOU really want to hear? It is so frustrating.
There is an old Yiddish word that is used sometimes in American English: “Yada-yada-yada.” So, Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, yada-yada-yada! No, I want to know what Jesus was teaching! Do we not all want to know this? As Christians we hang our faith on the Word of the Lord. Here we do not get to hear Jesus’ words.
This reminds us of the fact that our Christian Bibles are extremely condensed. The narrative that we get is almost more like an outline of the ministry of Jesus. I have to compare everything we get in the Bible about Jesus to the fact that every one of my sermons ever preached in this church is available online, plus years of videos and pictures. That is just not right. Every word that Jesus has ever uttered should be on the internet.
I hope Jesus was teaching about love, joy, humility, grace, mercy, and ultimate faith in God. I am sure he would have shared these concepts with his usual parables that unfortunately Luke has left out here. Yada-yade instead.
Why does St. Luke even bother mentioning, therefore, that Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues? Context matters! “One” of the synagogues is mentioned. Which one? He is close to the Temple of Jerusalem. Historical records show at least six synagogues nearby at that time. There were a lot of synagogues then, and there still are today.
I was talking with a stranger who asked me what my profession was. I told him that I was a pastor. He responded: “Eh, Kauai choke church!” True, we have so many churches on this island. So, this is like saying Jesus was teaching in a church on Kauai! Still this is very hard to pinpoint where Jesus was.
It seems that he was doing what we call “pulpit supply.” He was invited to come into the synagogue to teach! That means that he was considered a worthy rabbi known to the people. Like our churches today, not just anybody can come in to the church on the Sabbath and start talking. The leader of the synagogue obviously wanted Jesus to be there.
So, if Jesus walks in the front door of our church while I am preaching, I get to stop talking at you all and let him give you the Word this morning! However, as we read from our text today: yes, Jesus is invited in, but then the leader of the synagogue makes a point of correcting Jesus by saying to all there that Jesus should not be doing this healing on the Sabbath. Jesus is somehow breaking the Law of Moses!
What is Jesus doing that is so upsetting to this leader? By the language in the Greek, it is clear that Jesus is merely untying his shoelace. I know that the text does not say anything about Jesus’ footwear, but the verb that is used to describe the healing of this woman is λυω in the Greek. It literally translates as “to loose” in English. I like the fact that the new King James’ Version bible actually goes back and uses this old English word rather than using the term we have in our pew bibles “to set free.”
I know that most of us do not remember learning how to tie our shoes. Especially here in Hawaii this is a rare task to begin since most of the time we wear slippers. However, if you can imagine back to that moment when your mother or father taught you how to lace a pair of shoes, you might recall that it was not that easy. It was work. Yes, tying a shoe is work; therefore, it might be considered something you would not do on the Sabbath. Right? No work on the Sabbath.
Is untying your shoelace work? Is loosing a bowknot work? You just pull one end. Long before we were ever taught how to tie a bow, we knew how to pull the one end to get our shoes off. That is why our mothers were hunched over our feet in the morning tying our shoes for us! But, in the evening, we literally kicked our shoes off. Kicking our shoes off is the exact opposite of work.
Jesus is loosing the illness from a woman! This seems to be as easy for him as untying a shoelace, just pulling it off. The spirit is instantly loosed from the woman. Jesus puts his hands over the woman and pulls the evil spirit loose.
We do not come to church, or become followers of Jesus, in order that we be bound up with conventions, rules, or the bondage of religion. We come to church to get loosed. I invite you all to get loose right now. Go ahead, let loose! For freedom you were made free by Christ (Galatians 5:1). Believing in Jesus is not a burden. It is being set free from bondage. ‘
Jesus himself says that it is like being tied up as an animal waiting to be loosed to go take a long drink of water. This is something that God wants us to do as it proves our humanity and our lovingness towards God’s creation. It is certainly not breaking any religious edicts.
For eighteen years this woman was hunched over by the burden of a spirit of evil. I mention this again because what the leader of the synagogue said in his argument against Jesus is strangely still operative today in our world. No offense meant to our medical professionals, but it is nearly impossible for us today to see a doctor on Sunday for healing of a chronic illness. Indeed if it is an emergency, then the ER is ready and willing; however, if you have been sick with a disease for 18 years, then you will have to see the doctor on a conventional weekday visit. To us today, that is not unreasonable.
We must however take into consideration that eighty percent of the population in that day were living from day to day by their immediate earnings. That means that taking a day off to visit a doctor (or Jesus in this case) means potentially having nothing to eat that day.
Since all work stops on the Sabbath anyway, it was the perfect time to seek Jesus out—at least in so far as the woman would not miss any income.
Okay, what should it mean to be “hunched by a spirit”? I was thinking about this and praying of course when the spirit brought to me this image of a student who used to attend the high school bible club. She has since moved away, but I recall clearly how it was that when she walked anywhere, her countenance was fallen. She always was looking down at the ground rather than up at the horizon or in people’s eyes. I think only once or twice in years of knowing her (she was also in the middle school group) did I have the chance to see right into her eyes. And that, was when she was angry.
This high school student had no physical reason to be hunched over always looking at the ground. Her issue was totally psychological, sociological, or as we like to say “spiritual.” I believe the woman whom Jesus laid hands on that day actually had a medical/physical condition, but my point is that what Jesus did suggest was a lifting of a burdensome spirit by laying on of hands.
I want to be clear on one point as well: The word in the Greek, επι, does mean to put the hands “over” another person, not necessarily right on and touching that other person. In other words, you can pray over somebody, lay hands over somebody, but not have to actually touch that person.
We have biblical instruction on this in James 5:14 that states that when one is ill, then the elders of the church should anoint that person and pray “over” him or her. This is important because if that person who is ill is not right before us in the church, so that we cannot anoint, then we still have the power to heal by praying over that person’s life even from a distance. You do not have to be even in the same room to “lay hands over someone in prayer” who needs burdens to be lifted.
Yes, my wife is in Malaysia right now, but I can still lay hands over her in prayer. My daughters are in Washington; I can still lay hands over them in prayer. All of our various hanai children who live all over the planet; we can lay hands in prayer over them! Since Kauai is 2,500 miles away from the next major landmass, I will say that we have to have the longest prayer arms on the planet in order to lay hands on those in need of being set loose from their burden of ill.
This last week I got an incredible letter from my Uncle Olaf in Germany who described in great detail how he felt his life suddenly touched by God. He had a religious awakening that he felt he needed to share with me. I have prayed over his life for this religious awakening ever since I lived in Germany in 1979 and on! Thirty-nine years of prayers! Finally I have this sense that his burdens have been lifted! He has been loosed by the Spirit of God.
What are doing in our prayer lives if we are not laying hands over others and setting their spirits free? Once the woman stood straight up again, everyone there in that place and time rejoiced for the healing. That is why we rejoice still today in our worship! God is lifting our burdens, healing our spirits, and setting us free.