A New Word
(Isaiah 58:9b-14, Psalm 103:1-8, Hebrews 12:18-29)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/X_mDttN5dpE)
10Now [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But 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.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “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? 16And 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?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
Last weekend, my wife met up with our oldest daughter in the Twin Cities to help move her in to her dorm at the university. A new chapter in our daughter’s life has begun and we’re excited for her. She’s a long way away but we’re confident that she’ll adapt and excel with the task set before her. I only mention it because as I was reflecting on our readings assigned for this week, I recalled reading a letter written by a student to her parents. It read:
Dear Mom and Dad,
Just thought I’d drop you a note to clue you in on my plans. I’ve fallen in love with a guy called Jim. He quit high school after grade eleven to get married. About a year ago he got a divorce.
We’ve been going steady for two months and plan to get married in the fall. Until then, I’ve decided to move into his apartment (I think I might be pregnant).
At any rate, I dropped out of school last week, although I’d like to finish college sometime in the future. (On the next page the letter continued)
Mom and Dad, I just want you to know that everything I’ve written so far in this letter is false. NONE of it is true. But, Mom and Dad, it IS true that I got a C- in French and flunked my math class… and it IS true that I’m going to need some more money for my tuition payments.
Not that my wife and I ever expect to receive such a shocking and manipulative letter from our daughter! But it does illustrate something important from our lessons for this morning: the importance of keeping the right perspective. Sue cleverly prepared her parents for the bad news about her grades and needing more money by first suggesting much worse news. Her bad grades and need for more money were pale in comparison to the bad decisions she could have made with her life! In fact, it’s pretty smart to disarm her parents with worse news before the bad news. It helped them keep the right perspective about the bad news she had to share. Manipulative, yes…but smart, YES! It IS important to keep the right perspective about everything in life. When we take up the wrong perspective for too long, our lives tend to become burdensome and God doesn’t want us to lead burdensome lives. God wants us to keep the right perspective so that we can live God-pleasing, graceful lives. A wrong perspective can become a great burden.
Just listen to the burden that keeping the Sabbath had become to those around Jesus. Their perspective on keeping the Sabbath was all wrong. Of course, they didn’t think their perspective was wrong. They were simply heeding the wisdom of the great prophet, Isaiah. As we heard in our first reading, Isaiah taught, “if you refrain from trampling the Sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the Sabbath a delight and the holy day of the Lord honorable; if you honor it, not going your own ways, serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; then you shall take delight in the Lord, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth.” Now, how did the people hear this wisdom and incorporate it in their daily lives? By equating “pursuing your own interests” as doing any type of labor; any type of effort that might be considered as helping yourself get ahead in life. We are to observe the Sabbath by refraining from doing work and simply resting, or so the people interpreted Isaiah’s words. This train of thought goes all the way back to Genesis when God created for 6 days and rested on the 7th day. If God rested, then we ought to observe the 7th day and do nothing but rest.
But to exert absolutely no effort in an entire day is completely unreasonable. It is absurd to believe that we are expected to do nothing but exist for one whole day. LIFE doesn’t stop for a whole day! The worries of life don’t disappear for a whole day! No, life and all its worries keep plugging away 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Plants grow, people die, disasters happen, markets develop, and sicknesses rage on. It is unreasonable to expect all of our work to stop in a single day. Indeed, it is a wrong perspective to keep about Isaiah’s wisdom. And Jesus took the opportunity to correct our wrong perspective on this issue as we heard in our passage from Luke. Jesus was well aware of how the people had taken up the wrong perspective on keeping the Sabbath. To teach the right perspective, he healed a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years on the Sabbath, thereby defying the people’s belief that one shouldn’t work on the Sabbath. The people were enraged over Jesus’ defiance and told him to do his healing work on the other 6 days of the week. Jesus scolded the people: “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? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from bondage on the Sabbath day?” One could point out that Jesus hadn’t pursued his own interests by healing the crippled woman so he really didn’t disrespect the Sabbath. But then another might point out that teaching the people the right perspective did serve his own interests. Regardless, Jesus changed the perspectives of those around him (and us!) for the better. We become like the crippled woman when we rigidly cling to wrong perspectives in life. Wrong perspectives hold us back from being the full people God wants us to be and from living full and fruitful lives. Wrong perspectives weigh us down and keep us from standing upright…the way God wants us to stand.
Recall from last week how God’s words can be both easy for some and difficult for others. Jesus’ words are difficult for those who hold the belief that one shouldn’t do any type of work on the Sabbath lest they defy God’s order not to pursue self-interests. But not all work is performed out of self-interest. A lot of work is done for the best interests of others. In fact, most work better serves the interests of others than ourselves! So again, it’s all about having the right perspective. Isaiah was helping us to dedicate an entire day to denying our innate selfishness and considering the interests of others and God. Our work can reasonably serve these purposes for one day a week. So Jesus’ words are easy to those who want to serve others and God. Jesus’ words both empower and encourage selfless service to others and to God.
Beyond the issue of properly keeping the Sabbath, Jesus helps us to reconsider all the wrong perspectives we cling to in our own lives. So what wrong perspectives have become burdensome for us? How about those associated with declining health? What about those concerning broken relationships? Struggling financial situations? Unfulfilling careers? Believe it or not, the perspectives we keep have a great effect on the lives we lead. When we fixate on the pain and hurt and regret and sorrow of life, we tend to experience more of these qualities of life. But when we try to dwell in the joy and hope and sense of fulfillment life has to offer, we tend to live easier, contented lives. Joy begets more joy and hope begets more hope. New possibilities and opportunities naturally arise from new perspectives.
As we continue along our Pentecost journey, let us be mindful of the perspectives we keep. God knows we can easily slip into keeping wrong perspectives. We, like Sue’s parents, can fixate on how bad can get without considering how much worse it could be. With the right perspective, even the bad things can seem quite good. Let us learn from Jesus’ teaching to reconsider some of our perspectives. They might be hurting us more than they’re helping us. Perhaps more importantly, let us be grateful that God’s word is not only an easy and a difficult word, but also…a new word.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.