August 25 2019
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: Hebrews 12:18–29; Luke 13:10-17
When Compassion Trumps Conflict
I had the message subject already in the bulletin, and message typed out and ready. Yesterday the Lord said, no this is the message for worship today. These days using the word “Trump” will get you acceptance or condemnation, there is no middle of the road. But I come from a family that loves Euchre, so trump is fitting here. Also last week I talked about conflict can be healthy; today I am going to bring out the unhealthy side.
Anyone who’s done any studying of the bible understands this isn’t the first time or the last time that the compassion of Christ put him in conflict with the organized religious leaders of the Synagogue. However, this is the last time that Jesus is granted the opportunity speaking in the synagogue. The religious authorities had become increasingly wary about Jesus. They were convicted to be against him, grasping at straws to publicly challenge his authenticity and question his so called authority. Strict observance of the Sabbath became their obsession and opposition with His ministry.
Jesus was all too aware his ministry was putting him in the crosshairs of powerful, dangerous people. We read in the Gospels that the Spirit allows Jesus to know their hearts and thoughts. Jesus wasn’t trying to cause conflict, yet he does not allow their threatening presence to deter his compassion for the oppressed people. The needs of the many are more important than binding rules of the system or desires of the few. Jesus’ actions convinced them to challenge him even more.
Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath when he saw a crippled woman who was bent over and could not stand up straight. She’d suffered this affliction for eighteen long years. She did not ask Jesus for help. She was so bent over, that she likely was unable to see him without overwhelming effort. There was no one in the crowd that pointed her out to Jesus or took time to call his attention to her condition. Jesus singled her out and called to her: “Woman, you are set free from your ailment” (Luke 13:12). He laid his hands on her and immediately she stood up straight. How surprised she must have been!
In the Temple there would have been only men gathered. The “Woman” would not have been in the Temple, but Jesus takes notice of her over these men gathered. When Jesus laid his hands on her, there were no words exchanged. He did not refer to her as being possessed by a demon, just that her ailment was healed. With laying his hands on her in that fashion was in the form of a blessing. Jesus blessed her among this men gathered.
Can you imagine what it would be like to be bent over to the extent that you’re only able to stare at the ground? No matter how long or short? It would be maddening! But to suffer that condition for eighteen years would be beyond maddening. By this time, the poor woman must have long since drifted into an emotional state of hopelessness. She did not cry out for help. She did not come to Jesus. Jesus came to her.
The story in scripture seems to be the hopeless and helpless condition of this poor woman who has been bent over for eighteen years, only able to stare at the ground. One would think surely she had heard of the healing power of Jesus, but she does not ask for his help. She is past asking. However, Jesus takes the initiative and reaches out to her.
There is also something very interesting about this encounter that further intrigued me. The leader of the synagogue takes offense at this compassionate act of Jesus. Not necessarily the act of compassion but he consider this act of healing on the Sabbath to be an infraction of the Sabbath laws. The leader addresses his reprimand of Jesus to the assembled crowd. He seems to be interested in getting the support of the crowd for his pronouncement. He does not directly accuse Jesus of Sabbath violation, but his reprimand gives the impression that this is the case. He says 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” (Luke 13:14). Jesus likewise addresses his response to the crowd. He calls them hypocrites and points out that they treat their animals better than this woman, who has suffered an affliction for eighteen years, should be treated. Jesus said, “This woman is a daughter of Abraham. How dare you suggest that she be treated with less dignity and compassion than any one of you would treat your donkey?”
Jesus had not broken the Sabbath; he had only broken the exacting Jewish laws concerning the Sabbath. Jesus pointed out that she was being tormented by Satan and was of worth on earth and to God. In one swoop, Jesus took this woman bent over in such a way and gave her worth before all these men gathered. (Matthew 12:1-14). He concludes a similar line of reasoning in Mark 2:27 by proclaiming the great principle by which Sabbath observance should be understood: “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.” Jesus, in essence, is suggesting that all Sabbath observance questions should be resolved in the light of that principle.
There is an apocalyptic tone in the passage from Hebrews. There will come a time in which things that can be shaken are removed, and things that cannot be shaken will remain. The reader has cautioned to be mindful of this. “See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25). Hebrews also contrasts the blood of Abel, which was shed in vengeance but the blood of Jesus, brought about reconciliation. The life and death of Jesus brought a new understanding of God. The God who seems far away is now brought near. There are things that will not survive the “shaking” process, and the things that are of such eternal quality, they will remain when the “shaking” is over. There are things in life that secure our relationship with God. Paul speaks of these in 1 Corinthians 13. “Then there are material things that cannot be taken beyond the grave. Pay attention to that distinction”.
When Jesus had finished this scathing rebuke, “all his opponents were put to shame” (Luke 13:17). The text makes it clear that the crowd understood the reasonable correctness of Jesus’ argument. “The entire crowd was rejoicing at the wonderful things that he was doing” (v. 17). Compassion and good sense, trump the rule book in Jesus’ view of reality. In our world we are surrounded by people who suffer with long-standing afflictions. Sometimes the affliction is physical and obvious. Sometimes it is intangible, but no less real. Sometimes there are people who have run out of resources and need help. Sometimes there are people who have run out of hope and need help. Have you ever met someone who has suffered a severe, but not terminal, affliction for so long that they no longer entertain any hope of help? Of course you have, and so have I. Eventually they just shut down and become like the man in a country-western song: “I’ve been down so long that getting up never crosses my mind.”
What about the video this morning? Christ like love affects us and others we may never see. Yet we see that God has so much compassion for us, He will meet us right where we are at. He will touch us in such profound ways; God is reaching out to us. We read in Jeremiah that He will never abandon us. God knew about all of those involved in the video. He had a plan. So in our daily lives would you help or share your story with someone? Even on a Sunday the Sabbath. Would you have given up on Nate had you been given the opportunity to intervene?
Since helping people is not easy and, in fact, often complicated, we have a tendency to look for reasons not to help. Excuses are readily at hand. We might contract some illness from them. There is no money in the budget. We give to the United Way. We are not sure this person deserves help. This person is probably getting food stamps from the government. God helps those who help themselves. Can you hear yourself in any of these excuses, or in any of the other excuses of which you can think? There are many conventional reasons not to help.
Lastly we can get so wrapped up in the way worship is supposed to go traditionally, or how we want is to go that we forget that it is not just us in worship. Nor is worship only about us, in fact it’s not even about us, it’s all about God! We ask why can’t they worship like we do, when what we are really saying is “why can’t they worship like I do!” It’s about different people coming together giving praise and worship to God, in different ways, maybe even different times. The Lord comes to meet us where we are. All of this can create unhealthy conflict in a church family. We need to be supportive and compassionate towards others worship and praising God because this is a God that is compassionate towards us.
In Jesus’ view of reality, compassion trumps conflict every day. You will be shaken and empowered. What do you think?
Adapted from The Abingdon Preaching Annual 2010 & Thomas Lane Butts