26 August 2015

Luke 13:10-17

“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 who Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?” (vv. 15-16)

Psalm: Psalm 74:13-23


Somewhat subversively, Luke's Gospel records four instances when Jesus healed individuals on the Sabbath: there is a demon-possessed man (4:31-35); a man with a withered right hand (6:6-11); a man suffering from dropsy (14:1-6); and this unfortunate woman who is crippled. These acts of kindness and liberation did not meet with the approval of the religious authorities, who became more and more watchful as Jesus' ministry developed and as he approached the city of Jerusalem.

Not all synagogue rulers were averse to Jesus: Jesus taught in synagogues (Luke 4:15); the ruler, Jairus, sought him out for healing for his daughter (Luke 8:41-56). These events, however, took place in Galilee, a considerable distance from the seat of power.

There was a multiplicity of rules and regulations concerning the observation of the Sabbath. Many may seem ridiculous: surely it is more difficult to untie a knot with one hand than with two? That said, these Laws had offered a beleaguered nation a sense of identity and solidarity.

In Jesus, the Gospels reveal a man well-versed in the law. However, what is equally clear is that he was challenging a system in which obedience to the law had taken precedence over human wellbeing. What had been good had become corrupted and was being used to oppress rather than to liberate (cf Matthew 23:25).

Such is Jesus' authority and popularity with the people that the synagogue ruler did not address him directly. Instead, he rebuked the crowd: the 'fault' lay with those coming for healing on the Sabbath.

Jesus turned the law on itself: if it is permissible to free an animal, then why not a daughter of Abraham? Note how this physically challenged woman, unable to lift her head, was given her rightful place: she too was a child of Father Abraham and might hold her head high in every sense.

To Ponder

  • When do you think it is right to break the rules? Think of a time when you have done this: what was the reaction?
  • Who are the marginalised in your community? How can you help them to hold their heads high as children of God?

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.