“the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.” Luke 13:17
Five words beginning with “S” in today’s Gospel reading can be for us a cause for confidence about our faith and about the future of the church: synagogue, Sabbath, straight, Satan and shame.
Saint Luke Chapter 13 Verse 10 tells us, “Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues.” In the early days of the Church, the Christians, as we know from reading the New Testament were very much part of the Jewish community. Sadly, as we read through the pages of the Acts of the Apostles and the Letters of Paul, we see Christians and Jews come to a parting of the ways. By around 85 AD the “Curse of Minim” had been introduced into the prayers of the synagogue, a curse against heretics, particularly Christians, and the Christians found themselves put out of the synagogues. It was not a happy situation in which to find themselves, the Christians found themselves standing alone in a society that was alien and frequently hostile. Read the letters to the seven churches in chapters two and three of the book of Revelation and you get some sense of the depth of feeling. They lost their buildings, the traditions to which they had belonged were no longer available. They were thrown back on their commitment to following Jesus in the power of the Spirit.
Christians were prepared to live as pilgrim people, with a sense that they were no more than sojourners, no more than transient people in a hostile land. It is amazing to follow the growth of the Church in the second and third centuries; it was on fire with life. There were no structures to work with, no organisation to fall back on, there was simply faith in Jesus.
The word “synagogue” reminds us that the future does not depend on the past, it depends on Jesus.
Verse 10 tells us that Jesus was teaching on the “Sabbath” when he healed a woman who had been crippled by illness. In Verse 14 we read about the reaction to the healing, “But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.'” As far as the leader of the synagogue is concerned, Jesus has broken an important rule. But Jesus becomes cross with those who are obsessed with the rules. He replies sharply in Verse 15, “You hypocrites! 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?” The religious leaders had shaped rules that served their own purposes, they had become so concerned with the letter of the law, that they had forgotten the spirit.
The word “Sabbath” reminds us that the future does not depend on rules, it depends on Jesus.
Verse 11 tells us that while Jesus was teaching, he saw “a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.” The crippling spirit had ruined this woman’s life, she had been trapped, a prisoner of her condition. Jesus doesn’t just heal her, he also releases her. Saint Luke writes, in Verse 12, “When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are set free from your ailment.'” The woman’s physical and psychological life is transformed, Verse 13 says, “When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.” The woman stands up straight, free from the great physical pain she must have suffered, but free also from all the emotional hurt and depression she had endured for two decades. When Jesus healed someone, it was a healing of the whole person. It is important to realize that, sometimes, emotional and psychological hurt can be more damaging to a person than physical ailments.
The word “straight” reminds us that our future can be one where we have been released from those things that have trapped us in the past, a freedom that depends on Jesus.
In Verse 16, Jesus is unambiguous about what power had been responsible for the woman’s suffering, he asks his listeners, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” Satan is the adversary, the opponent, the power contrary to God’s way. “Satan” is used as a title for the Devil on more than thirty occasions in the New Testament, the adversary to be overcome. In Saint Luke Chapter 10 Verse 18, Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” “Get behind me, Satan!” says Jesus to Peter when Peter tries to dissuade Jesus from going to Jerusalem to face what will happen. However we wish to define Satan, however we wish to imagine him, Jesus is clear that there is a power of darkness in this world, a power that is destructive, a power that traps people. He is also clear that the power of Satan has been destroyed.
The word “Satan” reminds us that our future is part of a spiritual battle in which we are victorious, if we depend on Jesus.
After the healing and the conversation in the synagogue, Saint Luke writes, in Verse 17, “all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.” Of course, the opponents would return. The Law for them meant influence and power; it meant good standing in their community; it meant they were respected; they were people held in high esteem. They were not going to accept what Jesus said if it meant they were going to lose things that they thought were important. The opponents had been put to shame in the eyes of Jesus’ friends and in the eyes of those who would read the words of Saint Luke, but in their own eyes they were right and they would ensure that their way of doing things would prevail. Had the religious leaders of Jesus’ time been successful, there would have been no church.
The word “shame” teaches us to be suspicious of religious power. It reminds us that our future may be despite religious leaders, rather than because of them. It reminds us that our future is not about religion, it is about Jesus.
Synagogue, Sabbath, straight, Satan and shame: five words to give us confidence.