The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at: http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r188.htm
s188g98 Somerton Park 23/8/98 Sunday 21
"leader ... indignant". Luke 13.14
As I read the gospels I find it interesting to note the emotional responses to Jesus, for it is in the emotional responses we get a clear glimpse of what is actually happening in the situation. Indignation and anger betrays someone's toes are being trodden upon, and the owner of the toes is ready to complain loudly and at length. The indignation of this leader shows clearly where this man had his priorities, and it is worthwhile dwelling on these for some time, for they are all too common, and hardly confined to the Jewish hierarchy of Jesus' day ... My first point is that the leader's priority is focussed on himself, not on the due observance of the sabbath.
The second thing we need to notice was that while the leader was actually angry with Jesus, in fact he criticised the people who had come to the synagogue that sabbath day. How often are the wrong people the butt of our anger, because we are afraid that if we were to direct our anger at the actual person who upsets us, we might be told where to go. The person may call us to question the motives for our anger, and cause us to reevaluate the appropriateness of it. Far easier to blame the innocent masses - they will be too taken aback by the accusations to respond in an appropriate or considered way .. So because the wrong people are criticised, there is little or no opportunity for the real cause of the anger to be properly addressed. There is a good chance that this man spent his life being angry with the wrong people.
The third thing I would bid you notice is that Jesus responds by drawing out an everyday action done on the sabbath, for something that the leader would care about - his animals. The irony is clear in the implication that this leader of the synagogue cares more for his animals than he does about some in his congregation. I suspect it is hardly an accident that it is a woman who is bent over - it is so often women who have traditionally borne an unequal share of the toil and drudgery that life brings. So also women are usually not recognised as economic contributors, so they could be disregarded. One can only ponder if Jesus had cured a man of a similar ailment, if the same leader would have protested as loudly ... I bet the leader would not have said anything if the woman Jesus cured was the leader's wife :-) How prone we are to allowing God to extend blessings only to those for whom we have a personal regard.
As I was preparing this sermon, I was also doing sets of readings for each Sunday. One particular set included a passage from the prophet Jonah. God's care for animals complements God's care for people there also. The parallels between Jonah's anger and the leaders indignation are clear too. It is the universal "Achilles' heel" of all religions to keep God's blessings to oneself, and Christianity is not, by any means, excluded.
The fourth thing I would bid you notice is that Jesus did not break the sabbath regulations for himself. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, he could not be accused in curing people of "going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs" (Is 58.13). Because he was helping others he was not breaking the sabbath commandment - or at least in his own interpretation. When we do something for someone else and in doing so break one of God's commandments - then simply because we are doing it for someone else, we will not be criticised. Perhaps we ought to try this more frequently ...
The fifth thing I would bid you notice is that the leader invokes a higher authority. I suspect he felt his position of power and authority was being questioned, and he attempted to reassert his authority by quoting the law. He enjoyed his position of power and authority over others in the name of God. Much of what passes for religion - still to this day (as much within Christianity and within the Anglican Church - not just "others") is pushing people around, telling them what they should and shouldn't do, all (of course) cleverly disguised as "helping" them. This shows us that we can break the sabbath law (serving our own interests) without lifting a finger - in our own attitudes - in the name of God.
The sixth comment I would make is that the leader did this in an attempt to protect God. This person considered himself one of God's SWAT team - special weapons and tactics - team. Now SWAT teams are unfortunately a necessary part of real life to protect the innocent. But God does not need protecting. I have said before if we are in the business of protecting God, then the god we are protecting is no god worth worshipping.
The seventh thing I would point out is that the basis of the complaint is not only ill directed - it is also unjust. I guess life and living were no different then as today. People did their work on the six week days and came to worship on the sabbath. They would have as little opportunity as any of us (who are in full time employment) to come at another time. Perhaps more came because word had got around that Jesus was to be there. But no one had any way of knowing whether Jesus would speak or heal there. It was judgmental and unjust to charge those who had come to worship that they only came through self interest.
The eighth comment is an extension of the first - the leader charges the crowd with coming out of self interest but in doing so he only betrays his own self interest. The sins that we perceive others committing that cut closest to our own hearts are the ones we ourselves have committed. As the psychologists say: Our perceptions are merely projections. When we are angry, it is because somehow others point out our own stumbles.
Perhaps the leader was put out because it was the first time that the particular woman Jesus healed had actually come to worship. The ninth thing I would point out is that the leader didn't do his cause any good by pouring scorn on the person who came only when she needed help. Anger and indignation usually only serve to perpetuate the perceived injustice. Had the leader acknowledged the good of the healing, the woman may well have made a practice of coming, particularly as she was now obviously more able to do so and less self conscious if she did. It is true that the deformed were barred from temple worship, though I have no knowledge of whether that extended to synagogue worship in Jesus' day. But it was clear that such a woman would have felt herself less of a full child of Abraham than most.
This leads on to my final point. As I hear the Church, most frequently the picture is given that the Church laments that few people come and the Church strives to be welcoming when others come. The attitude of this leader paints a more accurate version, that when people come, their motives are questioned.
The way through all this is that to which Jesus' points - to consider all to be a part of this community - to "own" one another - just as they and we are.
My own personal vision for St Philip's is expressed in the words "where those for whom Jesus died are treated with courtesy and respect".
By this I mean that our vision is focused outwards not inwards. We don't get angry with people. We care for all people, not just for those who contribute or "matter". We are prepared to break the rules for the good of people. This is not our church - we welcome other people's contributions even when they eclipse our own. We are not in this business to protect God from people. We don't question people's motives. We don't project our own fears on other people. We treat all people as children of Abraham and deserving of a full place - whether they believe in the same terms as we do or not. We strive to make sure that we don't get in the way of others making their contribution.
Of course Jesus died and was raised to life for absolutely everybody, so my vision is that absolutely everybody, both those here and everywhere else, are treated with courtesy and respect. And we need to treat ourselves with the same courtesy and respect as I suggest we should treat others, for Jesus certainly died for each one of us too.
Anger and indignation are in the end self perpetuating and self defeating. People will be turned away no matter how well we can quote the bible, are "evangelical" we claim to be or which style of music we sing. The joy that comes from courtesy and respect is much more attractive and lasting.
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