Saturday, August 13, 2016

Who is Bound More?

I love this corner of the 4th century Two Brothers Sarcophagus.  It depicts Jesus showing compassion for the woman described in Luke 13 who was said to have been crippled for 18 years.  Other figures from this story also are present.  One fellow is holding his hand to his chin and seems to be considering the protest filed by the leader of the synagogue (on the right) who rebuked the crowd who witnessed this healing, "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day."  For this comment the leader received a strong rebuke from Jesus.  This text, Luke 13:10-17, the gospel lesson appointed for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, is unique in that to one of the characters Jesus' word is pure gospel, and to the other, pure law.  How will we hear this word?

(The following questions are some of the questions I ask in interpreting a text from a Law/Gospel perspective.  For a more complete understanding of this genre see my brief guide to Law and Gospel preaching, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This is an unusual text in that the Word functions in two very distinct ways:  For the crippled woman, Jesus' words, "Woman, you are set free from your ailment!" are the definition of gospel.  Jesus has announced healing and freedom to this woman.  She has been given the gift of grace, indeed without even asking for it, or a hint of her deserving it.

The leader of the synagogue who protests this healing on the sabbath, however, receives quite a different word:  "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 from this bondage on the sabbath day?"
This word is, of course, pure law.  This strong rebuke breaks the rock of self-righteousness in this man and humbles his pride.  This word shows the speaker his hardheartedness.

2.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  This is an interesting question because we have two distinct persons with whom we can identify.  If we identify with the crippled woman, then we will hear this freeing word, "You are set free!" as a word to us.  If we identify with the leader of the synagogue, then we will hear the rebuke, "You hypocrite!'  The question we must ask is who are we - persons broken in need of healing, or the self-righteous in need of rebuke? Perhaps we are both.

3.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text?  I do not hear a clear call to obedience in this text. The call to obedience is always the call to "Follow Jesus," and that seems absent here.  If we look at the Old Testament lesson appointed for the day, Isaiah 58:9b-14, there we have a clear call to obedience:  "If you remove the yoke from among you... if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like th noonday." (vs. 9b-10)

4.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  Certainly this text suggests several:  crippled/whole; in bondage/freed; dead in sin/alive in Christ.

5.  Exegetical work:  This text begs the larger question:  "What does it mean to be bound?"  The crippled woman was clearly bound, and Jesus announced freedom to her.  The leader of the synagogue was also bound, in the sense that his understanding of the sabbath law was so strict that he had lost sight of the purpose of this law.  He had lost sight of the life-giving that comes to us when we observe sabbath in God's way.  Luther, in his lectures on Isaiah, talked about sabbath practice:  "The true Sabbath works consist in doing works of God, hearing the Word, praying, doing good in every way to the neighbor.  The ungodly neither do nor teach any of this." (LW, vol. XVII, p. 289)  Luther could well have been speaking of this leader of the synagogue when he wrote this.  Augustine also spoke of sabbath practice in his preaching:  "Since that is what the Lord says about the woman whom Satan had bound for eighteen years, it was now time for her to be released from her bondage on the sabbath day.  Quite unjustly, they criticized him for straightening her up.  Who were these, except people bent over themselves?  Since they quite failed to understand the very things God had commanded, they regarded them with earthbound hearts.  They used to celebrate the sacrament of the sabbath in a literal, material manner and did not notice its spiritual meaning." (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. III, p. 226)

6.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  Timothy J. Hoyer, writing for Year C Gospel in 2013, goes deeply into the discussion of our boundness as mortal beings.  He points out that the crippled woman is just as bound in sin as is the leader of the synagogue; they both need to be released from the crippling notion that their good deeds merit their standing with God.  Hoyer also points out that Jesus was often healing and saving on the Sabbath, prominently on the Day of Resurrection, when all the world was freed from the bondage of death.  For a complete look at this analysis go to - text study.

Blessings on your proclamation!

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