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Luke 13_10-17

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TITLE:  How to REALLY Honor God                SCRIPTURE:  Luke 13:10-17

You won't be surprised to learn that there are some rather odd laws on the books.  I Googled the Internet for "odd laws" and came up with some very odd ones:

-- In Baltimore, Maryland, it is illegal to take a lion to the movies.

-- An Illinois state law requires that a man's female companion shall call him "master" while out on a date. The law does not apply to married couples.

-- In Ottumwa, Iowa, it is illegal for any man, within the corporate city limits, to wink at any female with whom he is "unacquainted."

-- In Zion, Illinois, it is illegal for anyone to give cats, dogs, or other domesticated animals a lighted cigar.

-- In Oklahoma, dogs must have a permit signed by the mayor to congregate in groups of three or more on private property.

-- In California, it is a misdemeanor to shoot at any kind of game from a moving vehicle, unless the target is a whale.

-- In Florida, a special law prohibits unmarried women from parachuting on Sunday or ''she shall risk arrest, fine, and/or jailing.''  Apparently the prohibition doesn't apply if the woman is married.  (From http://tjshome.com/dumblaws.php.)

I don't know if those really are laws, but the Internet says that they are.  The sad fact is that I can imagine that the Internet is right.  People do make some dumb laws.

And then there is Catch-22, a book written by Joseph Heller some years ago.  Heller was a bombardier in the Mediterranean during World War II, and the book is modeled, tongue-in-cheek, on his experiences in the Army Air Corps. 

In that book, Captain Yossarian is a bombardier on a B-25 in the Med.  He wants to be excused from combat flight duty, because it is so dangerous.  The only way he can be excused is to be diagnosed as insane by the flight surgeon.  However, it is clear that no sane person would want to fly combat missions.  By trying to get excused, Yossarian demonstrates that he is, in fact, sane and therefore fit to fly.  Heller called this dilemma Catch-22 --a situation where the rules just won't let you win.

Catch-22 was so popular because we have all felt like we have been there and done that.  Life sometimes presents us with odd situations or odd laws that leave us nowhere to turn.

In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus has run into one of those odd laws.  He heals a woman on the Sabbath, and is immediately taken to task by the leader of the synagogue, who instructs 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." (v. 14).

Our quick response is to wonder how anyone could be so stupid.  This woman has been stooped over -- unable to stand up straight -- for eighteen years.  For most of her adult life, she has been bent over -- unable to look people in the eye.  Her posture prevented her from breathing properly.  It stopped her from getting the exercise that she needed.  It would almost certainly doom her to an early death. 

But having encountered Jesus for just for a moment, this woman was suddenly freed from her infirmity.  Suddenly she could stand straight -- look Jesus in the eye -- breathe properly -- walk and run.  Hallelujah!!!  Everything that had been wrong for eighteen years was finally right.  It was like being freed from prison.

And you can be sure that the village was overjoyed to see what had happened.  They knew what it was like to endure hardship, and they were thrilled to see this woman freed from the prison of her infirmity. 

But the synagogue leader -- a religious man who presumably cared about people -- had only this to say:

      There are six days on which work ought to be done;

      come on those days and be cured,

      and not on the Sabbath day." (v. 14).

When Jesus cured this woman and she stood up straight for the first time in eighteen years, she was delighted -- and she found exactly the right way to express her delight.  Luke says that "she stood up and began praising God" (v. 13).  How could anyone find fault with that?  But the synagogue leader could say only:

      There are six days on which work ought to be done;

      come on those days and be cured,

      and not on the Sabbath day." (v. 14).

Talk about a stick-in-the-mud -- a real Killjoy!  If there were ever someone who failed to "get it," it was this synagogue leader.  The woman was thrilled at her newfound freedom.  The crowd shared her joy.  But this synagogue leader could say only:

      There are six days on which work ought to be done;

      come on those days and be cured,

      and not on the Sabbath day." (v. 14).

But I am going to confess something that you might find hard to understand -- and that is that I have a certain amount of sympathy for the synagogue leader.  I say that knowing that the synagogue leader is the "bad guy" in the story, and anyone who admits sympathy for him is likely to end up on your "bad guy" list too.  I don't want to be on your "bad guy" list, but the synagogue leader deserves a hearing.  If I don't help him, who will?

The first thing in the synagogue leader's favor is that the Fourth Commandment prohibits work on the Sabbath.  It says:

      Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

      Six days you shall labor and do all your work.

      But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God;

      you shall not do any work --

      you, your son or your daughter,

      your male or female slave,

      your livestock,

      or the alien resident in your towns.

      For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth,

      the sea, and all that is in them,

      but rested the seventh day;

      therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day

      and consecrated it (Exodus 20:8-11).

That's clear enough, isn't it! 

Second, there wasn't any reason why Jesus couldn't heal this woman the next day.  Sabbath regulations meant that he couldn't travel, so he would still be in town.  The woman wasn't going anywhere.  She had put up with her infirmity for eighteen years.  There was no reason why she couldn't tough it out for one more day.

Third, the synagogue leader was responsible for making sure that people in his town observed the law.  He had a job to do, and he was trying to do it.

And fourth, to observe the law was to honor God.  As nearly as the synagogue leader could tell, Jesus was deliberately violating the law -- and quite unnecessarily at that -- and was therefore guilty of dishonoring the Sabbath -- and dishonoring God.  Maybe the synagogue leader was right and maybe he was wrong, but that was how he saw it.  I admire his courage for challenging Jesus when he knew Jesus to be a formidable opponent.

But then, even though a part of me admires the synagogue leader, the rest of me has to admit that he was wrong.  Jesus made that abundantly clear.  Jesus 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?

      And ought this woman,

      a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years,

      be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?

In other words, if God's law allows you to take care of livestock, doesn't it allow us to take care of people as well?

And isn't it OK to free this woman from Satan's bondage on the Sabbath?  Isn't it OK to defeat Satan on the Sabbath?  Isn't it OK to show a little Godly compassion on the Sabbath?

Luke concludes the story by saying:

      When (Jesus) said this, all his opponents were put to shame;

      and the entire crowd was rejoicing

      at all the wonderful things that (Jesus) was doing.

You can be sure that many of the members of that crowd had felt the lash of that synagogue leader's sharp tongue at some point in their lives.  I'm sure that they all felt like cheering when Jesus put the synagogue leader in his place.

So what does this story have to do with us? 

For one thing, it shows us that it isn't always easy to know what the right thing to do is.  There are lots of people who go around today acting as if they have all the answers.  We like to think that these know-it-alls are the "fundys" -- right-wing conservatives.  However, left-wing liberals can be just as doctrinaire and uncharitable as any "fundy."  People at both ends of the spectrum like to pronounce themselves right and everyone else wrong. 

The issues are different today.  The hot-button issues today aren't whether it is legal to heal someone on the Sabbath, but how we should deal with abortion -- and homosexuality -- and illegal immigration -- and the war in Iraq.  Most of us have an opinion about each of those things -- and that's fine.  But it isn't fine when we act like it is "Our Way or No Way" -- when we care more about our opinions than about other people -- when we no longer deal with other people in a charitable way.

Maybe you are active in a church that had a few programs to serve all sorts of people.  It was wonderful and exciting.  Maybe you hold an office with heavy responsibilities, the pressure was on.  Do you find yourself getting uptight?  Are you sometimes short with other members of the committee?  Remember this little saying:

      "People are more important

      than programs."

Isn't that great!  Six short words to remind us of our true purpose:

      "People are more important

      than programs."

When someone quotes that little saying, calm down until the next crisis.  Then someone needs to remind us again:

      "People are more important

      than programs."

That was what the synagogue leader needed -- someone to tell him that he needed to lace his opinions with a bit of humanity -- a bit of charity -- a bit of grace.  In another setting, Jesus put it this way.  He said:

      "The sabbath was made for humankind,

      and not humankind for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27).

When we hear this story of the synagogue leader and the woman, we probably identify with the woman and think of the synagogue leader as the enemy.  But there is a more profitable way to hear the story.  Instead of identifying with the woman, ask yourself this question:

      "How am I like the synagogue leader?"

          And this one:

      "How can I develop more love --

      more charity --

      more grace --

      for people with whom I disagree?"

When we do that, we will become more like Jesus -- and less like the leader of the synagogue.

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