Days and Knots
Sometimes Jesus speaks to children, sometimes to middle aged adults, sometimes to soldiers – but today we see him engaging a person I think nearly everyone in this congregation can identify with. We are going to see that this story not only looks a lot like us, it fits us too, and we need its message.
If you have been here recently you know that we have been looking at the Gospel of Luke. A large part of the heart of Luke is taken up with the long journey that Jesus makes from his home area of Galilee in the North down to Jerusalem. He has met people along the way, addressing them according to their needs. Some people are in open opposition to him, many are a part of curious crowds, and some are followers on the journey with him; disciples.
Along the way Jesus has been announcing that the Kingdom of God has come. He himself is the means by which God is launching his Kingdom on earth. Jesus understands that God has anointed him, in other words, he is Messiah – the anointed one, or the Christ.
Teaching and Healing: Kingdom Work
As Jesus journeys to Jerusalem what is his day like? Typically he teaches people about the Kingdom of God, many times by parables: “The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed…” and so on.
Jesus also typically heals the sick – in fact he is quite famous as a healer, and many come to him seeking healing.
Is healing a purely physical treatment or is it spiritual? How much is physical and how much is spiritual? We could spend a long time trying to sort that out, but for our purposes here as we look at today’s text, we simply need to remind ourselves that in the time of Jesus – and for most of the world for most of human history, no such distinction was made. Most of us are content to leave the distinction ambiguous: we want the best medical care money can buy, and we also want all the prayers we can get.
The story before us today has a woman who is ill. Luke tells us she had a “spirit of weakness” that crippled her to the point that she was bent over could not stand up straight. Jesus says that the cause is “the satan,” or the adversary – a term for evil power at work in the word.
Our Blessed/Dangerous World
Here is a person that this congregation can identify with! How old is she when she came in contact with Jesus on that particular Sabbath? We are not told; only that she has an acquired condition, and has had it for 18 years.
This sounds like our story. We are all born with a set of facts about ourselves that we cannot help or change: our place of birth, our ancestry, and our genes that play such a huge role in our lives. Then from day one on, we start living in a world that has nutrition and oxygen and all that we need for survival, and with it exposure to many dangers that threaten us. We are exposed to bacteria and viruses, diseases, opportunities for accidents, and simply to the damage of long term wear and tear.
We are also exposed to evil. This world is an odd place. Evil is never positive or good; it’s always destructive and dehumanizing, but it is also often seductive. Some people resist it, others seem to have capitulated to it, but one thing is sure: all of us have been affected by the damage that evil does to us. Sometimes evil is done to us by others – even within our own families. Sometimes we bring evil upon ourselves. In fact it’s always some of both, isn’t it? I wonder what evil you have suffered damage from in your life?
Visible and Invisible Evil
Some evil is easy to see, other evil is subtle, nearly invisible. Our Presbytery along with all the others is looking at a new Confession of Faith called the Belhar Confession which we will vote on whether or not to add to our book of Confessions. It comes out of the horrible evil of the Apartheid system in South Africa. That evil, like slavery, Jim Crow and all forms of racism and discrimination are obvious evils. They destroy and dehumanize both the victim and the perpetrator as well as damaging the societies they both inhabit.
Other evils are less visible, but no less harmful. We, in this country, think that enough money would solve most of our problems. From welfare recipients to bankers we all get caught up in it. We get so focused on our growing pile and quest to make it grow bigger that we find ourselves comfortably ignoring poverty, hunger, disasters at home and abroad. None of us would say we are guilty of being materialistic, would we? We just cannot see it. Nevertheless, the person free from it is rare in our culture.
Varieties of Evil
Evil is not a thing, it is a corruption of something else. This is why there are so many varieties of evil: anything benign or good can become corrupted and evil. Money is necessary for all of us every day; when corrupted, money becomes Mammon, the god that makes blinds us and deafens us to human need. Businesses and corporations make the products from kitchen appliances to heart monitors – but if corrupted can ruin the lives of employees and pollute the world God put us in charge of.
Evil can be intimately personal; remember the song, “be careful little eyes, what you see… be careful little hands what you do… be careful little feet, where you go…” – we can use our beings to bless people and glorify God, or to indulge our basest desires and do damaging, destructive evil to ourselves and others.
Evil can be larger than merely personal; evil can be structural. Evil can be a whole system, like apartheid, like slavery, like the Third World Debt crisis, like governmental corruption, like every form of injustice and oppression. Every organization of humans, from the family to the club to the church to the company to the government, to the global banking system can be sources of blessing, or, if corrupted, destructively, dehumanizingly evil.
God’s Response to Evil
What is Jesus doing as he journeys to Jerusalem? He is announcing that God has not abandoned this world to evil. God created a good world with everything needed for humans, who reflect his image, to live blessed, fruitful lives. Evil entered this world and we fell for it – and keep falling for it – and it is destroying us. But God never abandoned the world to its evil ways, and now at long last, God is acting in a dramatically new and powerful way to rescue his people from evil’s damaging hands.
Jesus comes down that road announcing that God’s intervention has begun in him. He is launching the Kingdom of God. Yes, it will mean a confrontation with the powers of evil, and yes it will involve suffering – even death. But through Jesus’ death, God will overcome the powers of evil and redeem the people he made.
This is what Jesus’ ministry of healing is all about: a public display that God is at work through Jesus taking back territory like a liberating army. A woman has been held behind enemy lines for 18 years: now she is set free. The knots that have tied her down have been loosened; she is now free to stand up straight as she was created to do.
Tragically, there have always been those who have misunderstood what God wants to do in the world – that was true in Jesus’ time, it is still true today. There were those who were offended that Jesus was opening the door too far, to too many people who were not supposed to be fit for God’s company. For Jesus, the old traditions like Sabbath that were so important to distinguish Jews from gentiles now had to be reinterpreted.
Sabbath was supposed to be the time to rest on the seventh day after six days of labor – it was meant to liberate people from a life totally consumed by the demands of economics. If one would untie an animal to give it water on the Sabbath, how could one also not loosen the knots of evil that had bound this daughter of Abraham all these years on the Sabbath?
Some did not see what God wanted. How can we not make that mistake? How can we get God right? How do we know what in the world God wants? We know God, we see God, we understand God by knowing Jesus. Watch Jesus: though him we learn how God acts, how he thinks, what he feels strongly about, what he values.
God is all about healing our brokenness; repairing the damage that evil has inflicted. God is about opening the doors to people who were lost sheep, prodigal sons, impure, lepers, Roman soldiers and demon-possessed gentiles. Everyone is invited in to repent from the evil that has done them so much damage and the evil they have participated in, and be transformed by mercy, love and grace.
The Victory of God
We know what happened down the road to Jerusalem. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God and was arrested, convicted and crucified as King of the Jews. That was a mistake of course. Jesus’ death overcame the powers of evil and launched the Kingdom of God for the whole world.
We have been set free from the dominion of evil. We are rather citizens of the Kingdom of God. We know what God wants – we have seen it in Jesus.
He wants our liberation from evil. He wants our entire allegiance, body, mind and spirit, heart and soul, seven days a week. He has given us his Holy Spirit to empower us and to guide us as we oppose the evil that lies close at hand.
He also wants us to do as Jesus did. Jesus shows us how to live. Jesus gave himself to bringing healing to real suffering humans. We oppose evil in all its forms: personal and structural, local and global. This is what we commit ourselves to do.
We will be people of the Kingdom. We will not be complicit in any evil, neither at home nor abroad. We will be the ones who study Jesus and so know what our mission is. We are here to love God – with our whole heart, mind and strength. We are here to grow in faith, grow in our ability to trust God with our lives, our resources, and our futures. We are here to share Christ Jesus’ love in practical, tangible, significant ways. We are here to bring healing to our families, our community, our country, and to our world.
Where is the evil in your life? What is God calling you to do about it?
Where is the evil in your world? What is God calling you to do about it?