August 25, 2019 – Seeing from the Framework of Jesus


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“Seeing from the Framework of Jesus”
By Rev. Victor Kim
Luke 13:10-17
(08-25-19)

On the western shore of the Sea of Galilee lies the city of Tiberias.  The city has been around since the time of Jesus, having been founded around 20 A.D. and named after the Roman Emperor Tiberius.  When Sophie and I visited Israel earlier this year, we drove through the city early on the Sabbath, which for Jews is Saturday.  It was fairly early in the morning, but even so the streets were almost completely deserted.  There were no cars on the streets and the only people we saw were the occasional walkers who were on their way to the local synagogue for worship.

Observant Jews take the Sabbath and rules regarding the Sabbath quite seriously.  Even yesterday I saw a man walking down Railway Ave probably on his way to worship on the Sabbath.  You don’t drive on the Sabbath, you don’t work on the Sabbath, there are a myriad of rules and regulations that direct what an observant Jew can and cannot do on the Sabbath.

It all stems from the passage in Exodus 31 which records God’s command to God’s people through Moses, saying,

“You shall keep the sabbath, because it is holy for you;

everyone who profanes it shall be put to death;

whoever does any work on it shall be cut off from among the people…

it is a sign forever between me and the people of Israel

that in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day he rested…”

Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day shall be put to death.

Did you hear that?

No wonder observant Jews take this command so seriously.  Now Jesus was an observant Jew.  He was circumcised on the right day, he went to the temple in Jerusalem with his parents as was the custom and he worshipped in the local synagogues wherever he may have been.

In the passage from Luke 13 this morning, Jesus was teaching in a local synagogue on the Sabbath.  As he was teaching, a woman appeared who had been crippled for 18 years, bent over and unable to stand up straight.  Jesus, though he must have known the rules regarding the Sabbath, called her over and proclaimed that she was set free from her ailment.  Then, he laid his hands on her and immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

I have a new appreciation for divine healing after my recent illness.  I can’t prove scientifically that it was divine healing that helped me to overcome my illness, but you won’t ever convince me that all the prayers from so many people didn’t have a major impact on the restoration of my health.  The doctors told me about every possible negative outcome, from long term damage to my organs, to the loss of my foot, to even death, and in every case the result has been the best possible outcome. There’s been a lot of praising God over the past 4 months in my life and in my family.

You would have thought that those gathered around the woman that day in the synagogue with Jesus would have joined with the woman when she straightened up and began praising God.  18 years of pent up frustration and suffering shattered by a new hope and reality, bursting forth in grateful praise, perhaps in the words of the Psalm we just read together.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. 

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits –  

who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the Pit,

who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

who satisfies you with good as long as you live

so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” 

It might have made a wonderful scene in that synagogue those many years ago. But remember, it’s the Sabbath, and you can’t work on the Sabbath under the penalty of death.  And healing is work.

So, the leader of the synagogue, probably a very nice man, after all he had invited Jesus to speak that morning, he became indignant.  There are six days for work to be done, if you want to get healed come on one of those days, not on the Sabbath! He’s right, isn’t he?  There are six days to work and on the Sabbath we are to rest.  It honours God to keep the Sabbath.  It not only honours God, it is in keeping with God’s command.

I think many of us have heard the argument that Christians should take the idea of Sabbath more seriously.  We live in a society where it seems that there is no rest from anything on any day.  Every day of the week seems overly structured; we need to fit in so much in our busy lives.  Why would we waste an entire day by doing nothing when we need every hour and every minute to make sure that we don’t miss out, that our kids don’t miss out?  Sunday shopping became the norm in Canada decades ago and sports clubs and other activities find Sunday mornings to be ideal times to schedule practices and games. After all, what else would people be doing on Sunday mornings?!?

We struggle to keep the intent of the Sabbath while keeping up with everyone else. I know people who have begun taking a Sabbath from technology.  They won’t use their phones; answer any emails or texts, for a set 24 hour period once a week.  No social media, no Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter. There’s one person who I think we would all encourage to take a Twitter Sabbath, maybe even longer than for 24 hours, I think 24 months ought to be just about right! Maybe we would be better off if we took a stand and began taking the sabbath more seriously, not only around issues of technology, but around the idea of what it means to truly rest, to disconnect from everything that consumes us, to understand why God gave the command in the first place.

And really, if we start bending the rules around the commands of God, if we can’t keep the sabbath around our technology, after all what if it’s an important email, what if my boss wants me to respond to something, how can I not, what if I absolutely have to say something in response to that amazing cat video I saw on Facebook, but if we can’t keep the commands and start bending them to meet what we think we need, then doesn’t it defeat the purpose of the commands altogether?

It won’t be the Ten Commandments, but rather the Ten Suggestions.  Keep the Sabbath holy, unless you just have to go and do a bit of work, or don’t commit adultery, unless it’s just so tempting and besides, you know God will forgive you if you really ask! And isn’t that what the leader of the synagogue is saying?  Six days, six days to work. How is that not enough?  Why do you have to do this on the Sabbath?  Don’t you have any regard for our laws, for God’s law?  You mess with Sabbath, then who knows what’s next?

Laws are meant to protect us, to bring order to things, to enforce those rules and regulations that left to our own devices, we might not do such a good job of following. They often protect us from ourselves, our own worst instincts.  A country has to have borders to enforce who can enter legally.  What’s the point of having borders if you don’t enforce the law?  You can’t camp out on a city park that’s meant to be for public use.  What’s the point of having bylaws if you won’t enforce them?  You can’t heal on the Sabbath; you have six other days, six absolutely perfect other days to heal as many people as you want, just don’t do it on the Sabbath!

But Jesus calls the leader of the synagogue a hypocrite.  In fact, he calls all those gathered there who just won’t join in with the woman in praise for the healing, a bunch of ungrateful hypocrites.  Don’t each of you look after your ox or donkey on the Sabbath, untying them and giving them water to drink?  And yet, this woman, this daughter of Abraham says Jesus if you haven’t gotten the point yet, this child of God who was bound by Satan for 18 long years, you don’t even consider her to be more important than your ox or donkey.

If the Sabbath is meant to honour God, the God who creates, redeems and sustains life, life created in God’s image, life created out of God’s love, life that God will even give the life of God’s only son to redeem, how is it that an act that heals, that redeems, that sets free from the bondage of Satan, how is it that such a life giving, life restoring, life affirming act can be seen as a breach of God’s law, God’s command?

They missed the point.  I wonder if at times, we do as well.

Remember last week when Samuel preached on the greatest commandment?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbour as yourself.

That’s it says Jesus, love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Later on, Jesus says, “A new command I give you; love one another. 

As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

It doesn’t do away with all the other laws, but it’s a framework by which we need to understand the other commands.

I can’t imagine how deeply frustrating, humiliating and painful it must have been for that woman, bent over for 18 long years, with a framework for understanding her existence limited because of her posture.  But when Jesus healed her, when Jesus understood that a daughter of Abraham takes precedence over beasts of burden or whatever laws whose intent we may have misunderstood, misinterpreted or misapplied, her framework of seeing her existence would have changed so completely.

Sometimes I think that we have to be stood up by Jesus from a figurative bent over-ness when it comes to a host of things.  Sometimes we get pretty narrow and myopic in our vision and we need Jesus to renew our perspective, to give us a new framework by which to understand our world and our role as his disciples in it.  It’s not easy to see as Jesus sees, and if we’re honest about it, there are many times when we’d rather not and just keep our head down.

I remember when I was first moved into the room in the hospital where I would spend the next month, that there were four beds, each separated by a simple curtain. You could draw the curtains for privacy, but there was no privacy from the sound in the room.  At first my roommates were all patients who spoke no English.  I didn’t understand their language and it was really quite easy to just tune out the noise.  Because your brain doesn’t understand, there’s very little stress involved even when it’s noisy.  And if you don’t understand, you don’t have to care very much either.

No need to waste any energy wondering about what’s happening.  But then one patient went home and a new patient moved in next to me and he spoke English.  In fact, he wouldn’t stop speaking English.  He was one of the most prolific English speakers I had ever encountered, he wouldn’t shut up!  Even when his family wasn’t there, he was always on the phone with someone.  And because he spoke English, I couldn’t tune him out.  I understood his every word, even though I wish I didn’t. And when you know what a person says, you begin to form an opinion about that person, good or bad.

Then soon enough there was another person in the bed furthest away from me who also spoke English.  He was an unhappy man and was unkind to the nurses, always complaining about something or another.  Then a friend of his from another ward found him and he would come over every chance he got and they would spend hours complaining about one thing or another.  When you can’t tune it out, you form opinions of people.  I wish I could have shut it out and often I listened to music so I wouldn’t have to listen, but I couldn’t always.

 

But I wonder whether I missed the point.  I wanted to look down, just at my little patch of ground, and I wanted to be oblivious to the needs, the complaints, the reality of others, after all I was suffering, wasn’t I?  Why should I be subjected to more suffering?  But the reality is that all those people are also sons and daughters of Abraham, children of God.  And they deserve my compassion, my attention, my concern, my care.  It’s not easy to see from the framework of Jesus.  But Jesus wants to straighten us up from our bent over-ness, to change the framework from our own little landscape to see how Jesus sees.

Then we see things we might have missed, or just plain wanted to ignore. We hear stories of women still being trafficked by rich men who prey on poor, young, vulnerable, underaged girls.  The convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein made changes to his will days before his apparent suicide to make it more difficult for his victims to receive compensation for what they endured.

Do we care about human trafficking any more or is it someone else’s problem?

What about those migrants streaming into the U.S. or even here in Canada?

When our laws, well-meaning as they are, clash against the essential humanity of those in need, do we need a new framework by which to see our laws?

If refugee claimants are deemed less important than the laws of the land, do we need to ask who sets the law and for whose benefit? 

What would we see if we saw from the framework of Jesus, the Jesus who heals on the Sabbath because he knows that it’s not a breaking of the law, but a keeping of the greater law?

It’s not easy, following Jesus is never a simple thing.  There aren’t just a bunch of laws that if we can keep, we’ll be good.  There’s a lot of nuance, a lot of interpretation involved.  The good news is that the one who gives us a new commandment tells us to love another as he has loved us.  We, you and I, are also daughters and sons of Abraham, children of God each and every one of us, beloved, cherished, redeemed.

And so is each and every one of the people we will encounter when we leave this place. There is no hard and fast rule that works for every situation and yes, sometimes it does seem like a slippery slope.

But being a follower of Jesus takes energy, effort, it takes risk and a willingness to invest in people, in others, to love them as we love God, as we love ourselves.

As we navigate this complex and challenging world, this world that God loves, maybe that’s the best framework we could ever ask for.

Thanks be to God, Amen!

 

Written by Rev. Victor Kim
Preached on 25 August 2019
at Richmond Presbyterian Church.