Jeremiah 1:4-10 and Psalm 71:1-6 • Isaiah 58:9b-14 and Psalm 103:1-8 • Hebrews 12:18-29 • Luke 13:10-17
Plopped down here in the middle of Luke – right after a bunch of stories where Jesus is warning folks of trouble ahead, and before getting on the road to Jerusalem, is the Sabbath day healing of a woman bent over for 18 years. Set here, it is as though it is intended to give us readers a mini-sabbath rest before the journey ahead. The Sabbath, as Jesus said elsewhere, "was made for the sake of people, and not people for the sake of the sabbath" (Mark 2:27). It seems once again that we human beings have got it all wrong. We are not 'supposed to' go to church. Apparently, it does not please the heavens if we do; nor does it displease the heavens if we don't. The commandment to remember the Sabbath day was given for our benefit!
The day of rest began when the Hebrew people were liberated from slavery in Egypt. In the short list of rules for the new community, the requirement to remember the Sabbath (Exodus 20:8-11) has the longest explanation of any of the ten commandments. The way to remember the Sabbath – not to work – was in sharp contrast to their life of slavery in Egypt. One can imagine the joy of the Hebrew people in realizing that they could have a day off: they were free!
Enter today's reading a daughter of Abraham; that is, a person whose lineage had experienced enslavement. She is in bondage to an ailment that has made her stooped over for some 18 years. Jesus heals her, describing the healing itself as setting her free. Those in charge of the synagogue, who had turned the Sabbath into a burden rather than a rest, were irate. Jesus stood his ground, though, and the people celebrated.
Being set free – from an illness, an oppressive job, or any form of cruelty – is worth celebrating. What's interesting, though, is how often the bondage comes from within. Often a person chooses to over-do it, taking on work that more reasonably belongs to another person in the family, or the work setting, or even the church community. A person may think that this is somehow the 'right' thing to do; centuries of a work ethic have made a dent on our souls.
One problem with an over-valuing of hard work is that others who tend to under-do never have the chance to step up – and if they try, the over-doers will quickly step in to show them how they were doing it wrong. This indeed is bondage, but it is bondage from within. Neither the over-doer nor the under-doer can find the way out. Another problem is that we can quickly fall back into the frame of mind that somehow hard work, or just a low-level misery, is automatic: what is required by life. A long morning in church may fit this description, and its apt conclusion of a family devolving in the car on the way home. Was the woman in this story stooped over from over-work? The story does not say. What the story does tell us is that Jesus was interested in human freedom.
Morning: What are my responsibilities today? Where do I have choices?
Evening: When did I feel over-worked? Under-used? Resentful? What could I have done differently?