Jesus Sides with Compassion
Jesus Sides with Compassion
A question that is often asked about interpretation of scripture is how do we best do that? We bring our own cultural bias towards anything we read. Our gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status informs everything we do. How can we approach scripture and read it by putting our own bias aside? I would argue that the best way to do this is to interpret scripture the way that Jesus did.
Scripture: Luke 13: 10-17
Jesus Sides with Compassion
I like Luke’s gospel. He spells things out for us very clearly, using all sorts of wonderful literary techniques to help us realize what is going on. Consider the opening words of our passage this morning.
“One Sabbath Jesus was teaching in a synagogue.”
It’s simple and clear. If we are paying attention it also provides a very clear picture of what is likely to happen next. We recognize this by thinking back to the other times in Luke’s gospel when Jesus is teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath.
Our search through Luke’s gospel will bring us back to Luke 4 where Jesus proclaims “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”
Theses words from Luke 4 tell us of Christ’s mission in the world and there is hardly a moment in Luke’s gospel that does not point back to this pivotal moment. Certainly, our passage today is directly linked to those first words Jesus spoke when he began his public ministry. Jesus came to set people free. Our theme for today is freedom or to adopt more biblical language, liberation.
The situation is simple enough. Innocent even. Jesus is teaching, he notices a woman who has been crippled for eighteen years. Jesus has the power to do something about it and so he does. The woman is healed. If it was in our power, I’d like to think each of us would do the same.
Except it’s the sabbath and the leader of the synagogue doesn’t like what he sees. He says, come some other day to be healed. Now we know it’s dangerous to argue with Jesus, but the poor synagogue leader doesn’t. However, Jesus does something very interesting in his rebuke.
In his commentary on this passage Michael Chan notes that Jesus does the following: “Using a mode of legal reasoning common to first century Judaism, Jesus argues from a lighter, less significant matter up to the weightier issue of the woman’s ailment: “Does not each of you on the sabbath untie (luei) his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?” The assumed answer, of course, is “yes.” It is both practical and permissible for an animal keeper to untie his animal and lead it to water. The easement given to animal keepers staves off death by dehydration, thus protecting not only the life of the animal but also the economic interests of the owner. In this method of argumentation, it follows that, if the less valuable animal is given an easement to stave off death, then this oppressed woman should also receive an easement for her illness.” (Michael Chan, Working Preacher).
Using a different interpretation and approach to the law Jesus argues that it was right and permissible for him to heal the woman. I think we’d side with Jesus on this one. In his teaching on this Jesus ties the Sabbath to the theme of liberation as presented in Deuteronomy where the Sabbath is linked directly to the Israelites being freed by God from Egypt.
Have you ever noticed something about the way Jesus interprets the law? The law I might remind you that Jesus came to fulfill?
It is always relational. Whenever Jesus is asked about the law, his response always comes from a relational point of view. His interpretation always sides with mercy, grace and love. Think about the story of the Good Samaritan, who is my neighbour? The one who showed mercy.
Think about the woman at the well, give me this water so that I will never thirst again.
Think about the resurrection of Lazarus. When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved … Jesus began to weep.
The response of Jesus to the human condition is always relational. His interpretation of the law is always rooted in the themes of love, mercy, justice and liberation. You cannot be a follower of Jesus and escape that.
I want you to hold the response of Jesus in your heart and now I want to contrast that to the response of the synagogue leader. Were you paying attention to the words that were said by the synagogue leader? After Jesus heals the woman, who does the synagogue leader chastise?
Is it Jesus?
No, it is not.
The synagogue leader turns to the people and says, “There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath!” He doesn’t address Jesus, he addresses everyone else. Included in that number is a woman who moments ago was unwell and crippled by her condition.
The leader of the synagogue points at her and says how dare you. How dare you come here to be healed. He points her out and he shames her publicly. He blames the victim.
Now we know that Jesus is having none of it and we’ve seen and talked about how Jesus responds, but let’s bring this passage forward 2000 years and consider it in our own context. Let’s think about victim shaming and I’m going to provide just one example.
You are all no doubt aware of the housing crisis in Cobourg and beyond. You are aware that there are individuals who are homeless within our community. Of course it isn’t just our community, it’s in Peterborough, Toronto and beyond. Yesterday, I watched a segment on CNN about the homelessness crisis in the USA. Not a particular city, but in the USA. We all know it’s here.
I’m going to zero in on Peterborough to our north as there is a story there that has been ongoing for a few weeks. There were homeless people in Peterborough who discovered a loop-hole in the bi-laws and they were able to set up their tents in Peterborough County vs. Peterborough the city. It caused a lot of distress for many local residents and the tent city was broken up and the homeless dispersed. Eventually, a local church said come and set your tents up here. Some did.
Peterborough Council passed a motion that the homeless could set up a camp in Victoria Park. However, this too was met with distress by local residents. You can imagine the comments. That encampment will soon also be closed and the homeless will be forced to ‘move along’ once again.
We have homeless people and we hold stereotypes and biases about what that means and looks like. People’s reaction to this is almost overwhelming negative. Much of the response is ‘get a job’, ‘get off the drugs’ etc. Think about who we are shaming here.
Now, let’s start putting things in further context. Do you know how much an individual on Ontario Works receives a month? Most of you probably don’t, it’s less than $1000/month. What’s the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Peterborough or Cobourg? Now add in food and other essentials.
How do you afford that? How do you get a job when you don’t have a fixed address?
Let me bring it back into focus. Jesus was in the Sabbath and had a debate about how to interpret the law.
Which law do we enforce or fix?
Do we enforce the law which says you’re a public nuisance, move on? Or the one which addresses root causes of homelessness?
Do we allow the housing market to run rampant? Or do we put controls in? I recommend watching the documentary Push. Also, the Province of Ontario has eliminated rent control for new units across Ontario (CBC).
Which law do we enforce or fix?
I think I know how Jesus would respond. Jesus would look at the law and would side with the interpretation that was relational, which advocated for justice, wholeness and healing.
To blame the homeless is to victim shame on a massive scale. We need to recognize that many who end up homeless are victims of violence and abuse. They’ve already been victims, they don’t need shaming they need help.
There are some who might say I’m too political. That I talk about the poor and the homeless too much. That I focus far too much on social issues and how we can work to change things, which is I believe the work of the kingdom. But when I read scripture, I don’t see any other way to interpret it. As follower of Christ, as a Christian leader, I see no other way but to side with the marginalized, to side with the oppressed because that’s what the guy I follow and believe in did.
Friends you can’t repent of your sins and not answer the call to justice.
You can’t answer the call to justice without first understanding and repenting of your own complicity in the system which creates injustice.
It cuts both ways.
The healing message of Jesus never waits for a more appropriate time or day. The kingdom of God does not wait around for us, nor does it have a sense of polite timing. Resistance to the message of healing and reconciliation is resistance to the mission of the kingdom.
Jesus announced, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” And then he continued to live out that mission.
We are called to live out that same mission for God’s glory and we need not ever apologize for it. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.