31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
January 17, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
I’m a rule follower. Yes, I am bold and outspoken; however when it comes to the rules, I am a complete scaredy cat. And that’s really what it comes down to – I’m afraid, afraid to break the rules.
Not Jesus though. Jesus was not afraid because fear does not come from God. So when it came to rules, Jesus wasn’t afraid to break a few. Jesus was a rebel – a rebel with a cause. And that cause was compassion.
When Jesus sees this woman in front of him, this woman who had been bent over and crippled for 18 years, he did need to know the reason why. It didn’t matter to Jesus if it was arthritis or malnutrition or an evil spirit. All Jesus needed to know was that this woman was in pain, that she was enslaved to her ailment. And the way of Jesus Christ, the way of God is to free people from whatever enslaves us – whether it be illness, injustice, or evil spirits. The way of Jesus Christ, the way of God is to free.
So Jesus did just that! In the middle of teaching in the synagogue, on the Sabbath day, Jesus stopped and said to this woman, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” (Luke 13:12) And in the time-honored tradition of the Church, Jesus placed healing hands upon her, and she was immediately well.
It was amazing! It was a miracle. It was against the rules– or so the leader of the synagogue said. There was a time and a place for healing, and it wasn’t on the Sabbath. I am not familiar enough with the customs of Judaism – modern or ancient – to be able to tell you why healing was considered work. The why isn’t important. What is important is that this leader says, “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)
When I read this through by myself, when we read it with Bible study last Monday, I thought the leader was shaming Jesus, telling Jesus he should not have healed the woman on this particular day. As I typed these words though, I realized the leader was shaming the woman – ‘come on those days and be cured.’
So it makes even more sense to me why Jesus would be outraged. Here was this woman who had spent 18 years bent over, in pain, only being able to look at the ground. Do you ever see those ads for the upright walkers? Where people talk about how freed they are by being able to see straight ahead as they walk, where people talk about how wonderful it is to be able to look others in the eye. Imagine how separated, how diminished, this woman was, day after day, not being able to see where she was going and look people in the eye. Why should she have had to wait one more day for healing?
Jesus saw no reason – no reason to wait and no reason to shame the woman. Instead, he turns the conversation around. The leader says that there are rules to follow – that people don’t need to be cured on the Sabbath when there are six other perfectly good days to do that work. Jesus, in a classic mic drop, says Look at your own behavior. All of you on the Sabbath untie your animals so they can be freed to go get water. “ought not this woman, daughter of Abraham [and child of God] whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)
‘Ought not we show compassion’ is what Jesus is really saying. In the same way that we would not be so cruel as to deprive an animal of water for a day, shouldn’t we also be as kind to another human being?
Healing this woman was not the only time Jesus broke the rules. All four of the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, contain stories of Jesus healing someone on the sabbath. The story of a man with a withered hand, a man blind from birth show us again and again that when faced with choosing the rules or choosing compassion, Jesus chooses compassion over and over again – because that was who he was, that is who God is.
Now I am not saying the lesson to be learned here is that we should all become rebels. Just because we do not like a law or a rule, just because things do not go the way we want, does not give us cause to ignore the rules and laws our society and country has agreed on to live in community and keep people safe. This story isn’t about being a rebel, just to break the rules. This story is about compassion.
In these past two weeks, I have heard people justify violence because they believe the election was “stolen”. I have heard people counter with unkind and, to my mind, hateful remarks because of physical and verbal attacks perpetrated on them.
In one such verbal attack, a congressman was surrounded by an angry gathering of people at the airport. It is easy for me to have compassion for the congressman. I can absolutely put myself in his shoes and feel the fear of being surrounded by yelling, angry people, the fear that they may turn physically violent. No one likes to feel like a cornered animal. And I also discovered, as I read the article, that I have great compassion for at least one person in that crowd – a woman who is reported to have shouted at him “you are destroying my children’s future.” You are destroying my children’s future.
The congressman, the woman shouting. And all of the other people we read about in the news. These are real people, real people who are in pain, some of them are enslaved to their pain and have been for years. As Christians, as those who model our lives on Jesus, it is not our place to offer judgment or retribution. It is God’s place to judge, and it is the responsibility of our judicial system to hold people accountable. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are asked to offer compassion, to offer more compassion.
We don’t have Jesus’ power. We cannot lay healing hands upon people who are physically, mentally, and emotionally enslaved by their ailments. We don’t have Jesus’ ability to heal people of their pain and fear; however we do have the power to offer them compassion. We do have the power to show compassion.
The lesson from Jesus’ life to ours is that every day, every moment is the right time to show compassion. That person who messes up their job, which messes up your life in a major way. If you can, take a deep breath and remember that you do not know what is going on in their life, you don’t know what affliction they may be struggling with.
And that person in the news, we don’t know what they are struggling with either. Years ago, one of my parishioners was arrested, accused of hitting her husband’s girlfriend with her car. When the story was published in the Hartford Courant online, people who did not even know her tore her apart in the comment section. Turns out she was wrongfully accused, wrongfully arrested.
And compassion is especially important when it comes to ourselves. I am your pastor. I know your stories. I know how this pandemic is enslaving all of us with pain and fear. I know that regardless of this pandemic, so many of you and your loved ones are enslaved to chronic diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia, diabetes, addiction, and PTSD, enslaved to trauma from the past, bound by the pain of journeying through COVID, cancer treatment, the loss of loved ones. We might not have been suffering for 18 years like the woman Jesus heals; however each of us has suffering, has pain, has affliction in our lives. Each of us is in need of Jesus’ healing. and so as we offer compassion to others, it is important to offer compassion to ourselves as well.
The woman ailing for 18 years, the man with the withered hand, the man blind from birth, Jesus heals them all. Jesus does not take into consideration that it is the sabbath. Jesus doesn’t care that he is breaking the rules because to Jesus, to God, it is not about being right, it is about doing right. It is about healing and having compassion. And this is Jesus’ lesson for us: Every day, every moment is the right time for compassion.