While visiting in Kansas City with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter recently, I attended church with them. The sermon from Luke 13 included the statement, “The entrance to the kingdom is different than we expect.” The statement came after Jesus healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath.
A synagogue leader was indignant because Jesus paused his teaching one Sabbath day to call a woman forward. This was unusual on its own, but what Jesus did next drew criticism from the synagogue leader.
This woman had been bent over with a crippling condition for 18 years. Jesus called her upfront, and he healed her on the spot. Cause for celebration, right?
The synagogue leader didn’t think so. The act of calling a woman to the front of the synagogue – while he was teaching – was bad enough form, but the leader of the synagogue drew the line and took exception to the healing.
It’s hard to wrap our modern heads around this scene, but we don’t observe the Sabbath like first century Hebrews did. The Sabbath was sacred. It was commanded by God. To avoid violating God’s command, the religious leaders went into great detail about the things a person could not do (lest it be considered work, in violation of God’s command).
I am not sure that healing was actually on that list of things one cannot do, but it probably also wasn’t on the list of things a person could do. Perhaps out of an abundance of caution, the synagogue leader stepped up and asserted his authority, telling the crowd that they were welcome to come and be healed on any day of the week, except for the Sabbath. (Luke 13:10-14)
We look back on this scene with little real appreciation of the weightiness of the Sabbath rules. We also know (spoiler alert) that Jesus is God in the flesh! The synagogue leader didn’t have a clue.
Should we imagine that he would stand in front of God, telling the people gathered around God that they cannot be healed by God on that day because of the Sabbath if he knew who Jesus was? I kind of doubt it!
It seems absurd to us twenty centuries later, but we can’t be so sure we would have known exactly who Jesus was in that moment. The disciples didn’t know! They were still weren’t’ sure up to the point of his resurrection. John the Baptist wasn’t sure when he sent a messenger to ask Jesus about it. We should probably assume that we might have known either.
We don’t have a robust or strict religious tradition on the Sabbath like first century Hebrews did, but we have other sacred doctrines. Different groups may have different sacred doctrines, and we are capable of being so locked in on our sacred doctrines that we might sometimes fail to grasp at times exactly who God is.
If we hold reflexively to our views, and do not allow for the possibility that reality may be more than we perceive, we run the risk of failing to understand or appreciate God, even as we stand in His very presence. Or worse, we might be responsible for inhibiting other people in their relationship to Him!
That synagogue leader didn’t appreciate that God in the flesh stood before him on that day and miraculously healed a poor woman of a crippling condition that oppressed her for 18 years. Instead of rejoicing with her and marveling at God’s love for her and people like her, he fixated on the Sabbath rule (as he understood it) and took offense.
He completely missed the significance of what Jesus did and it’s implications because he was set in his understanding of the Sabbath rules. He was unwilling to let go of his understanding and expectations to accept and embrace what Jesus was doing. This is a common theme in the New Testament if you pay attention to it.
We probably can’t stress enough the need for finite beings like us to be humble and open to having our views and expectations expanded as we encounter new things. Our expectations are set by our understanding, and our expectations can become obstacles to truth if we don’t understand clearly the things we know (or think we know). Jesus said,
“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”
This is a warning to all who seek to encounter Jesus. Beware of misunderstanding him! Do not be so quick to jump to conclusions. Hold your doctrines, especially your pet doctrines, loosely. Our understanding of great traditions, like strict adherence to the Sabbath rules, can be warped just enough that we fail to recognize and understand the reality of God and His purposes.
“[W]e may find in Holy Scripture passages which can be interpreted in very different ways without prejudice to the faith we have received. In such cases, we should not rush in headlong and so firmly take our stand on one side that, if further progress in the search for truth justly undermines this position, we too fall with it. We should not battle for our own interpretation but for the teaching of Holy Scripture. We should not wish to conform the meaning of Holy Scripture to our interpretation, but our interpretation to the meaning of Holy Scripture.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, De Genesi ad litteram Vol 1 Ch 19)
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