Sermon: Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity
Sunday 21 August 2016
The Revd Pete Hobson, Director – Leicester Cathedral Revealed
Pleasing the crowd?
So this week I got my letter notifying me I can vote in the Labour party leadership election, as an affiliated union member – have you got a vote? Leaving aside views on the outcome, the manner of the election is fascinating. In Momentum, Jeremy Corbyn seems to have a well-organised popular fan club, whereas Owen Smith is the choice of the majority of the slightly more ‘elitist’ group that is Labour MPs. What, if anything, does that tell us about the respective candidates and their policies? Who will be successful? And what will success in this contest actually mean for the Labour party, and for the rest of us?
Some somewhat similar questions appear in today’s gospel passage. I’d like to take the story blow by blow, and see what we might learn.
“Now (Jesus) was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath”
- The Sabbath: a special day to them. No longer so for our world, or at least in very different ways. Why and how?
- They had a culture of religious observance: is that a good or a bad thing? Perhaps it all depends…
- He was ‘teaching’: is that what we expect of our church experiences? If so, do we come expecting we might learn things? Or just experience?
“A woman with a spirit that had crippled her for 18 years”
- She ‘appeared’ suggests not welcome? Not usual? Or usual but marginalised. How do we view those who don’t fit whatever might be thought to be expected norm in our midst?
- And what exactly was her ailment? We can’t really know – maybe hunchback, rather than scoliosis – but we know its impact was both chronic and dramatic. She’s described here as ‘crippled’, bent double, but the word also has the sense of being tied up.
He called her over and said “Woman, you are set free…”
- That moment of being ‘Called over’ – singled out – how did it feel? It seems to have been a habit of Jesus (though not universal), that people first encountered him, and then received from him. How does that fit our experience?
- The healing is described by Jesus as being ‘set free’. Free from something that has tied her down? Free for something – but what?
Immediately she stood up straight and began praising God
- Free for that! Noticed habit of some athletes, footballers and Olympians on being interviewed on their victories or gold medals to ‘thank the Lord’. It can sound a bit forced and artificial in our ears, but there again, maybe the problem is our ears, not their words.
The leader of the synagogue, indignant, kept saying…
- Here’s the first conflict: between the leader, as the establishment, the visitor and the crowd…
- He ‘kept saying’: because they didn’t listen? Because he felt threatened?
There are six days… come on those days..
- Knowledge of the rules. In any walk of life, the alternative to rules can be anarchy, and the victory only of the strongest. So not bad in itself – but what are the rules for?
- Isaiah 58 takes the same theme about Sabbath rules: recurrent through history? What are the rules for? How will we know when they have ceased to support that purpose, and instead stand in its way? Who is to say?
The Lord answered him: “You hypocrites..”
- Strong words are sometimes necessary. Though maybe less often than we think?
- Even so, I note he answered him (singular) with ‘you hypocrites’ (plural). A group answer – to a school of thought or a synagogue congregation, not a direct attack on one person
- A hypocrite says one thing and does another. A danger religious leaders are especially at risk of – but so can we all be! It was the crowd he was addressing, not just the leader.
Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox…?
- “be set free from this bondage” again. ‘Tied up’ – like the ox or donkey. Not just a matter of the presenting issue but the effective impact.
- Relative hierarchies of need (water/healing), and of status (animal/daughter of Abraham)
His opponents were put to shame, and the entire crowd was rejoicing
- Subverting the establishment, pleasing the crowd. Dangerous?
- Winning the argument – what about winning the war? More than an argument. More even than creating a mass movement – who in the end turned on him and called out ‘Crucify’
- Jesus’ mission was not to discomfort the religious establishment, as if that were an end in itself – but to proclaim the breaking in of the kingdom of God, a kingdom that religious establishment existed to support!
- Ultimately this is the leader who loses to win, and who calls people to follow him to death in order to have life.
– The approval of the people, and the enmity of the hierarchy?
– The support from those in the know, and the hostility of uninformed popular opinion?
Jeremy and Owen may have one or the other of these – and whichever wins, the stakes are political at best.
This is Jesus – who calls God’s whole chosen nation from bondage into freedom, and calls us to be part of that counter-intuitive people.
And at this moment calls specifically to one rejected woman, and liberates her from out of her bondage. Do you and I hear his call today? What is the liberation he offers us? Will we take it?