Why Not Now?

Luke 13: 10-17

When Jesus saw her. . .  She caught Jesus’ attention. This story always reminds me of the days I worked at a department store while I attended college. I worked an evening shift, and there was a woman who came in the store from the transit bus stop just outside the door. She’d walk through the store to exit through a door on the opposite side of the store. I wouldn’t recognize her by her face as she passed through. I’d recognize her by her affliction. She had some form of scoliosis that left her spine curved. I’d see her by first seeing the hump in her back first. I think maybe the woman in this story in Luke was afflicted in a similar way.

People so often catch our attention in various ways. A man attending a crowded church service refused to take off his hat when asked to do so by the ushers. Others also asked him to remove his hat, but he remained obstinate. The preacher was perturbed, too, and waited for the man after the service. He told the man that the church was quite happy to have him as a guest, and invited him to join the church, but he explained the traditional decorum regarding men’s hats and said, “I hope you will conform to that practice in the future.” “Thank you,” said the man. “And thank you for taking time to talk to me. It is good of you to invite me to join the church. In fact, I joined it three years ago and have been coming regularly ever since, but today is the first time anyone paid attention to me. The ushers paid attention, some other folks paid attention, even you paid attention to me. Hey, we even had a conversation, though you always appeared to be too busy to talk to me before I wore this hat.”

While teaching in the synagogue, Jesus healed a woman who suffered from a crippling ailment. When Jesus saw her, when she caught his attention, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment (infirmity).” He then laid hands on her. Immediately, she stood up straight and began praising God.  This is worthy of our praise and worship. The following four verses describe the opposition Jesus faced. The synagogue leader was indignant because the healing occurred on the sabbath – “indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath”. The leader of the synagogue kept saying to tell the crowd that there are six days to do work. The crowd ought to come on those days to be cured, and not on the sabbath. There was that which was acceptable, and that which was a violation of established law.

An officer in a police helicopter spotted a car speeding down the interstate. He radioed his partner on the ground and the patrol officer in the car stopped the speeder and began writing a citation. “How in the world did you know I was speeding?” the man asked. The patrol officer didn’t say anything but pointed skyward. “Aww,” the man moaned. “You mean, He’s turned against me, too?” Stopped by a police officer for driving without a taillight, the driver was visibly distressed. “Don’t take it so hard,” said the officer, “it’s only a minor offense.” “That’s not the point,” replied the troubled driver. “What worries me is, what’s happened to my trailer and my wife?” A sheriff’s deputy pulled alongside a speeding car on the freeway. Glancing at the car, he was astounded to see that the woman at the wheel was knitting. The deputy rolled down his window and yelled, “PULL OVER!” “NO,” the woman yelled back, “IT’S A SCARF!”

As far as the synagogue leader was concerned, Jesus violated one of the commandments from God written on stone and given to Moses. As a reminder, this is the command from Exodus 20:

Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. For 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, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. (Exodus 20: 8-11)  There’s to be no work on the sabbath, period.

Jesus’ response was to first call the synagogue leader a hypocrite. He then asked if each of them on the sabbath untied their ox or donkey and led it to water. “Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath?” Setting a person free shouldn’t be limited to a time, or even a place. The synagogue leader said such a work ought not happen now. Jesus’ response was to ask if they would even have that perspective regarding their livestock. No water for you today. Of course, we could even go in the direction of understanding the second class roll women held in those days. More remarkably, Jesus spotted her. “When Jesus saw her . . .” She caught Jesus’ attention, and she wouldn’t be the same afterward.

When he saw her, he said she was set free. She did not come to him. He saw her with eyes of compassion and acted with words and contact, and she was set free. He saw her condition and knew he was capable to relieve her of her ailment, setting her free. “When he saw her. . .” Who was the one who arose in faith to bring about a change? It was Jesus who arose in his faith, spoke and brought relief to her condition.

The leader kept saying to the crowd. . . There are six days to do work. The working of a miracle, of a cure, is work just the same. This reminds me of one of the plagues the Lord brought upon Egypt.

Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron, and said, ‘Pray to the Lord to take away the frogs from me and my people, and I will let the people go to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘Kindly tell me when I am to pray for you and for your officials and for your people, that the frogs may be removed from you and your houses and be left only in the Nile.’ And he said, ‘Tomorrow.’ (Exodus 8: 8-10a) When would you like to be relieved of the frogs? Tomorrow. When would you like to be relieved of your guilt and shame? Your fear and anxiety? Tomorrow? Why not now?

For the leader, what Jesus did was a violation of a commandment. The Lord rested the seventh day; therefore, the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it. But, THIS LORD saw with the eyes of compassion a daughter of Abraham afflicted and set her free on the sabbath. We’re not making a distinction between two Lords. Our Lord and Savior, Son of the Most High, saw with the eyes of compassion on the sabbath day a daughter of Abraham afflicted on the sabbath day and set her free on the sabbath day. Honoring the sabbath day to the glory of the Lord in the days of the establishing the tribes and nation of Israel was radically different behavior than what other nations of the day did. The sabbath gave everyone a day off, descendants of Abraham, their servants, their slaves, the aliens in the land they shared. It was a merciful command for all to observe just like the Lord observed after creation. For the leader of the synagogue in Jesus’ day, the traditions of law, the traditions related to sabbath, were much more important, much more sacred than this suffering daughter of Abraham. How many more suffering children of Abraham were being told to wait until tomorrow to be blessed? Tomorrow would turn into next week, and next week would turn into a month, a month would turn into a year, two years, a decade.

Why not now? Synagogue leader, why not now? Pastor under appointment, why not now? Leaders of committees, why not now? The synagogue leader kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days to do work. Come back then and be cured. The sabbath is more important than for you to be relieved of your guilt, shame, suffering, fear, heartache.” It is our Lord Jesus Christ who saw with eyes of compassion the 18 years of suffering in that woman. When he saw her . . . I say our Lord sees us today. Today. Now. With eyes of compassion, our Lord sees all of us and calls us to himself and declares relief, forgiveness, comfort, joy is ours because of his love for us. Alleluia!

(Preached at St Mark UMC in Anniston, AL, August 21, 2022)

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