+ In the Love of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This morning let's take a look at our Gospel reading (Luke 13:10-17).
"Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath."
Luke doesn't tell us what Jesus taught on that particular day, but he does tell us what Jesus taught when he visited his hometown synagogue:
"When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom.
"He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him.
"He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
"'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 favor.'
"And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down.
"The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
"Then he began to say to them, 'Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing'" (4:16-21).
And today, in this morning's Gospel, Jesus again fulfills that scripture:
"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. . . ."
Notice that Jesus takes the initiative.
The woman doesn't have to ask— she may not even have thought to ask.
But Jesus sees her condition and he acts.
"'Woman, you are set free from your ailment.'
"When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God"— which, of course, is exactly the right response when something wonderful happens to us.
I'm sorry to report that the leader of the synagogue was not best pleased!
"But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd"—
he ignores Jesus entirely—
"'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!'"
Although the leader of the synagogue didn't speak to Jesus, Jesus speaks to him— but notice that Jesus says "You hypocrites!"— plural.
Jesus knows that the crowd is on the leader's side when it comes to the Sabbath law.
In fact, that's understandable, because this Sabbath law comes from very heart of the Law of Moses— the Ten Commandments:
"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. . . .
"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, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey. . ." (Dt 5:6, 13-14b).
In responding, Jesus makes his point by connecting the ox and the donkey in the Sabbath law with the oxen and donkeys in the crowd's everyday life:
"'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?'"
It's too bad we don't read the New Testament in Greek because we miss the wordplay when the English translations conceal the connections between the words.
So I'm going to reveal two wordplays in this morning's Gospel by using more literal English translations.
Here's the first wordplay, and in this first wordplay, Luke is playing with the word untie:
"When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, 'Woman, you are untied from your ailment.' But the leader of the synagogue was indignant. The Lord answered him, 'Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger? And ought not this woman be untied?'"
Here's the second wordplay, and this time Luke is playing with the word bound:
"The leader of the synagogue said: "There are six days on which we are bound to work; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day." But the Lord answered him, "But this woman whom Satan bound for eighteen long years— wasn't I bound to untie her from her boundedness on the sabbath day?"
Our Gospel this morning presents us with a contrast between the people and things that bind us, and the God who unties us and sets us free to heal and to welcome and to love.
Or, to put it another way, this morning's Gospel presents us with a contrast between religion and Christianity.
Listen to what the late Robert Farrar Capon, who was an Episcopal priest and theologian, wrote in his book, The Parables of Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), pp. 99-100:
"Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God"— like keeping the Sabbath law.
"[But] the church is not in the religion business. . . .
"The church, instead, is in the God-proclaiming business. . . .
"[The church] is here, in short, for no religious purpose at all, only to announce the Gospel of free grace."
And that is what Luke shows us in this morning's Gospel.
Jesus sees a bound woman and sets her free.
He doesn't wait for her to do anything, or ask anything, or prove anything.
He doesn't ask if she's been attending synagogue lately or if she's been behaving herself lately!
He simply unties her and sets her free.
And what Jesus did for that daughter of Abraham, Jesus did for us on the cross.
We too were bent over by sin and bound by Satan, and Jesus untied us and set us free by his death and resurrection.
And because we are baptized, the Spirit of the Lord is upon us, too, and we too have been called to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, to let the oppressed go free— in short, to untie them and set them free.
Thanks be to God.