Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 21 August 20016
(Isaiah 58:9b-14 Psalm 103 Hebrews 12:18-29 Luke 13:10-17)
“Partial View Seating No More!”
My wife, Lois, and I have a pretty clear plan when we go to Broadway to see a play. We get partial View seats. These are seats, most often offered at a reduced price, but these seats come with partial, obstructed, limited view of the stage. These are seats that will miss some of the action on stage due to scenery or things like support columns or overhangs. So, even at a reduced rate, partial view seats may not always be a bargain.
I’m thinking of the woman in today’s Gospel story.
In this story of the bent over woman, she has a partial view seat of life. The text uses words like “spirit of sickness” or “spirit of infirmity” in some translations, interpreting it as a physical effect. Whatever it is, it controls her, burdens her, bends her over double and blocks her vision to the world. We are never told “why”? Perhaps she has been abused, or oppressed. Perhaps her backbone is broken. Whatever it is, she cannot stand upright on her own accord. She can only direct her gaze to the ground below. Her horizon is narrowed. I guarantee she has suffered the loss of human dignity and basic freedom for eighteen years.
Let’s take a closer look!
The story begins as we meet Jesus in the synagogue teaching. It is the Sabbath. Seemingly from nowhere comes this woman, who for 18 years, has been crippled over by a “spirit.” She is bent over and cannot stand up straight. She does not ask to be healed by Jesus. Maybe she was not even able to see Jesus.
But Jesus sees her, calls her over. This type of person is usually made invisible to the rest of society. She is not invisible to Jesus. So Jesus speaks to her (breaking the rules), touches her (breaking the rules), heals her on the Sabbath (breaking the rules—three strikes you’re out!).
As she stands up, she begins praising God. At that moment, perhaps, she realizes there is a power greater than herself. Her glimpse of the world becomes totally new, as she no longer has a partial view seat! Here is where we enter this Gospel story!
The pulse of the church is to notice those who are bent over in our society today.
The pulse of the church is to break the grip of those who are only able to look down at the dirt of their lives.
The pulse of the church is to be Jesus, if you will, calling others from their partial view of life, as well as, in our hearts, in our piety, and in our vision, to imagine a world no longer organized to take advantage of the powerless and the weak.
The truth is, it is really hard for me to read this Gospel without preaching a just word. After all, this is Luke writing, always to those on the margins of society.
We are in the synagogue. It is the day of Sabbath. There is a woman involved. None of this is coincident or a mistake! This is the moment to uphold God’s spirit that God will bring forth justice and equality, that God will faithfully bring forth justice.
In Luke’s Gospel more than any of the others, this Jesus who makes the bent-over woman stand straight speaks for basic human dignity—justice for the weak, justice for the crippled, justice for the burdened, justice for those made invisible by society.
This new vision is now one of a changed social possibility. It is the vision of God’s people on their way into a new world of God’s goodness. The work of the Gospel writer is to invite each one of us into this new vision, with new possibilities.
If you know anything about Luke the Gospel writer, you know that he has very little patience with rigid social and religious groups. He has written his Gospel always pointing out that by the time of Jesus, too often the Law turned people inward and too full of self. Luke understood from the very outset that serious faith in God is an open faith, reaching out for the well-being of the world, offering a different community with a clear mandate: to create dignity, to work for justice and to do what is right.
To do otherwise is to create bent over people, people with burdens on their backs—burdens of hunger, poverty, nakedness and homelessness—not as an accident but as a sure and certain outcome.
And so we look out and look within in search of the way God is now working in the world. I believe we find God in the places where people are oppressed but not defeated, afflicted but not crushed, perplexed but not despairing, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down and bent over but not destroyed—in places where suffering people have not lost hope!
So our task is one of resistance: +resisting the seduction to do nothing for the invisible people of our society because most of the time they will not know the difference; +resisting the seduction to make religion only sweet and pious routines that take place within a building on a Sunday morning—this resistance over and against the hungry, the abused, the poor, the homeless, the naked—for all those who are bent over in our society, too often the cause being society itself. We will not be one with God until we notice and then reach out to that bent over woman we see so very close to us right here in our family, in this church and in our community. Opportunities abound right here in this church to prevent us from being seduced into doing nothing!
Finally, and maybe this is the most important part of this sermon: it really all begins with knowing there is part of each one of us in that bent over woman. We are all that woman with the burdens we carry that weigh us down. Most assuredly, the gift of grace abounds as we recognize our own vulnerability. And that is when the Good News of the Gospel becomes real for us, because just as Jesus did for the bent over woman in the synagogue, Jesus does for every one of us every day of our lives! Amen.