A Provocation: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Luke 13:10-17

Luke 13:10-17

13:10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.

13:11 And 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.

13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.”

13:13 When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God.

13:14 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.”

13:15 But 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?

13:16 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?”

13:17 When 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.

 

A Question or Two:

  • Who gets to teach in a synagogue?  Anyone who shows up?  Someone who is invited?
  • Who does the inviting?

Some Longer Reflections:

It is too easy to get stuck on the indignation in this scene.

So maybe the leader of the synagogue missed the point.  So maybe he was out of line.

So you’ve never been out of line?

And he has a point: Sabbath is a reminder that oppressors do not have the final word.

It is a promise that justice and freedom are not simply misty daydreams.  They are promised by God.  As the Jewish writer, Adad Ha-Am has written: “More than the Jewish people has kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath has kept the Jewish people.”  One ought not casually disregard such things.

So don’t fixate on the indignation of the synagogue leader.

Notice, instead, that when Jesus argues that Sabbath is precisely the right day to bring freedom to a daughter of Abraham those who had argued against him are ashamed.  The usual English translation (“put to shame”) is a little too sharp, I think.  Being “put to shame” sounds like Jesus has just delivered the coup de grâce in a duel to the death.  But another translation reads this as “blushing with shame,” which is less fatal.  And preferable.

Think about that.

This is matter of shame.  That means that this is a community matter.  If you feel shame, you are part of the community.  If you do not, you are shameless, which means that there is no living connection between you and the community.

That means that the storyteller is making this point: Jesus and the leader of the synagogue (and the daughter of Abraham, for that matter) recognize each other as members of the same Jewish community.  Indignation happens inside every community.  Feeling shame and responding to it are how communities heal themselves.

No one likes to feel shame.

At best, it is awkward.  And it is always painful.  When someone says, “You should be ashamed of yourself,” it hurts.  But “should” and “shame” are words that live only inside of working communities.  Outside of the boundary, there is no “should.”  Who knows what outsiders should do?  The fact that you can’t predict their behavior is how you recognize that they are outsiders.

Or narcissistic sociopaths.

But inside a community we all know what we should do, and feel shame if we do otherwise.  And shame hurts.

That pain is the price of maintaining the community.

So this is not a scene about the indignation felt by a synagogue leader who was rigid, legalistic, or filled with rage.  If that were the case, he would not have heard Jesus’ argument as persuasive.  And we know he found the argument persuasive because the storyteller tells us he blushed.

And it’s not a scene that lets Christians crow because Jesus wins an argument (YAY, US!).  That just leads to a sense of superiority that is theologically annoying.

This is a scene about an important disagreement that results in a healed relationship within the Jewish community.  That is, at least in part, why the entire crowd rejoices at the end of the scene.

 

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