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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 13:10–17

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 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. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 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.” 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? 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?” 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. (NRSV)

Just out of college, as a very junior member of the M & A group of a Wall Street firm, I remember two bosses standing over me. One demanded that I change numbers in an analysis to get his client to offer a higher price. “I pay you to obey, not think,” he bellowed at me. “No, think; do what is right,” whispered the other boss. One boss didn’t last very long at the firm. I didn’t either.

In this story in Luke, we see two different views of the sabbath and two different views of how to build, and maintain, a religious community.

While teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath, Jesus says, “You are set free.” The woman healed was in bondage to a crippling infirmity and Jesus freed her. Good work on the sabbath.

On the other hand, there was the synagogue leader. To him, the sabbath meant rules to obey—religious rules, religious traditions. The sabbath was not the day for any work, including the freeing of somebody from her pain.

Jesus’ response to the synagogue community is fascinating. Does Jesus say, “O, the sabbath rules don’t matter. We’re doing away with them”? No! Instead, Jesus argues for a right, merciful evaluation of a person under a heavy burden and then uses the sabbath to relieve her of it. Jesus argues for true values in the use of God’s sabbath, not blind obedience to rigid rules and traditions. It is a day of liberation, for the individual and the church community.

And, at the story’s conclusion, the “entire crowd was rejoicing.”

Dear God, you have freed me to think, love, follow and act. May I do so. Amen.

Written by Phil Calian, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church

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