“Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?” --Luke 13:15
Why go to worship?
Some, I suppose, go to be entertained. Good music. A good speech that makes us feel good. Others, I suppose, go because of the people. Friends. Acquaintances. Maybe people we’ve known for years. People who, basically, believe and think like we do, or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. Some go out of a sense of duty. (Though I think this reason is fading away fast.) We gather around Word and Sacrament because we know that’s what God wants us to do. It’s what God expects of God’s children.
Why go to worship?
Have you ever gone to worship because you were bent? Broken? Tied-up and yearning for a freedom that you haven’t been able to find anywhere else? Release from whatever evils bind you? Have you ever come to the church looking for a word of compassion, of healing, of hope from Jesus?
That’s why the woman in this week’s Gospel lesson came to the synagogue on that Sabbath day so long ago. And, in Jesus, she finds what she was so desperately longing for. She receives the healing she had been seeking for eighteen long years in spite of the leader of the synagogue who would have denied it to her.
The leader of the synagogue was so bound up in the rules and religious traditions (which, after all, had come from God) which he felt duty-bound to uphold that he almost got in the way of the very thing which God intended for this child of Abraham, this beloved child of God.
But, before we judge him, we should probably look in the mirror. The people of God have a long history of getting in the way of ourselves! Like the leader of the synagogue, we can get so wrapped up in “the way we’ve always done it” that we completely miss the new thing God is doing in our midst. We can get so focused on doing it “right” that we resist and can even be found working against the miracles God is performing right before our very eyes. We forget what Jesus said during another of his many sabbath conflicts, “the sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). And, in the process, more than one bent woman… or man… has walked away from the church still stooped over.
For Jesus, compassion always supersedes the rules. For Jesus, an opportunity for healing always outweighs upholding tradition. For Jesus, mercy always transcends judgement. (Good thing, or we’d all be lost.) Holding to these values of grace and love got him nailed to a cross. The power of these life-giving values were unambiguously demonstrated when he rose from the dead three days later.
Because we who have been freed cannot keep ourselves from joining our voices with the woman in our text who praised God for her healing. We come together as bent and broken people to pray for all those who haven’t experienced the healing power of Christ that we have come to know.
People are still coming bent, broken and tied up, yearning to be released from the evils that bind them. Will we who follow in the Way of Jesus respond to them with rules and traditions… or with the compassion of the one who freed us from our bondage to sin, death and the devil?
Pray for all those who live bent over by the evils and oppression that binds so many in our world. Pray that we respond to them with Christ-like compassion. Thanks for reading.