Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Fifth Sunday in Great Lent (Kfiphtho / Crippled Woman)

Sermon / Homily on Luke 13:10-17

"That To Which We Have Come"

by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild

Gospel: St. Luke 13:10-17


(NIV) On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath."

The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

L This is the gospel of our risen Lord.
P Praise be to you, Lord Jesus Christ.


O Lord, we pray, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Speak, O Lord, for your servants listen. Amen.

There is a tale told about a certain man went through the forest seeking any bird of interest he might find. He caught a young eagle, brought it home and put it among the fowls and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chicken food to eat even though it was an eagle, the king of birds.

Five years later, a naturalist came to see him and, after passing through the garden, said 'That bird is an Eagle, not a chicken.'

'Yes' said the owner, 'but I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle, it is a chicken, even though it measures fifteen feet from tip to tip of its wings.'

'No,' said the naturalist, 'it is an eagle still; it has the heart of an eagle, and I will help it soar high up in to the heavens.'

'No,' said the owner. ' it is a chicken and will never fly.'

They agreed to test it. The naturalist picked up the eagle, held it up and said with great intensity. 'Eagle thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to this earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.'

The eagle turned this way and that, and then looking down, saw the chickens eating their food, and down he jumped.

The owner said; 'I told you it was a chicken.'

'No,' said the naturalist, 'it is an eagle. Give it another chance tomorrow. '

So the next day he took it to the top of the house and said: 'Eagle, thou art an eagle; stretch forth thy wings and fly.' But again the eagle, seeing the chickens feeding, jumped down and fed with them.

Then the owner said: 'I told you it was a chicken.'

'No,' asserted the naturalist, 'it is an eagle, and it has the heart of an eagle; only give it one more chance, and I will make it fly tomorrow.'

The next morning he rose early and took the eagle outside the city and away from the houses, to the foot of a high mountain. The sun was just rising, gilding the top to the mountain with gold, and every crag was glistening in the joy of the beautiful morning.

He picked up the eagle and said to it: 'Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not to the earth; stretch forth thy wings and fly.'

The eagle looked around and trembled as if new life were coming to it. But it did not fly. The naturalist then made it look straight at the sun. Suddenly it stretched out its wings and, with the screech of an eagle, it mounted higher and higher and never returned. Though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken, it was an eagle.

Society has a way dehumanizing us.
Of causing us to fail to see our worth before God. Of making us little more than objects to whom advertisers make their pitch, and about whom governments create statistics and form policies to keep everything safe and predictable.

And religion without vision also has this effect reducing us to the status of law keepers - or law breakers classifying us according to what we believe or do not believe and categorizing us according to the way in which we conform or do not conform to the expectations of the church or denomination in which we happen to find ourselves.

But, in and through Christ Jesus, like the bent over woman that he healed in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, we are sons and daughters of Abraham. We part of the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven - part of the throng who have come - and who are yet to come, to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, where thousands upon thousands of angels are gathered in joyful assembly.

It is easy to lose track of who we are - and whose we are - and to slip into the old ways - the way of the law and it's regulations; the way of trying to please God by adhering to a code that measures our worth by what we do and our value by what we refrain from doing.

It is easy to forget that we are eagles and that we are meant to fly in the highest heavens.

Today's gospel passage is about how Jesus heals a woman who has been crippled by a spirit for the past eighteen years - she has become a bent over woman, a hunch back - unable to look up - unable to do all the things that we who are not crippled can do.

It is a wonderful passage that shows us something of the incredible grace and the wonderful power of our Saviour.

Walter Wink, in his book "Engaging the Powers", suggests that Jesus' actions in today's reading represented a revolution happening in seven short verses. In this story, Jesus tries to wake people up to the kind of life God wants for them. Jesus often talks about the Kingdom of God where people have equal worth and all of life has dignity - and in this story he acts that message out. In the midst of a highly patriarchal culture Jesus breaks at least six strict cultural and religious rules:

First, Jesus speaks to the woman. In civilized society, Jewish men did not speak to women. Remember the story in the Gospel According to John where Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. She was shocked because a Jew would speak to a Samaritan. But when the disciples returned, the Scripture records, "They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman "

In speaking to the bent over woman, Jesus jettisons the male restraints on women's freedom.

Second, Jesus calls her to the centre of the synagogue. By doing so he challenges the notion of a male monopoly on access to knowledge and to God.

Third, Jesus touches the woman, something forbidden under the holiness code. That is the code which protected men from a woman's uncleanness and from her sinful seductiveness.

Fourth, Jesus calls her "daughter of Abraham," a term not found in any of the prior Jewish literature. This is revolutionary because it was believed that women were saved through their men. To call her a daughter of Abraham is to make her a full-fledged member of the nation of Israel with equal standing before God.

Fifth, Jesus he heals on the Sabbath, the holy day. In doing this he demonstrates God's compassion for people over ceremony, and reclaims the Sabbath for the celebration of God's liberal goodness.

And last, and not least, Jesus challenges the ancient belief that her illness is a direct punishment from God for sin. He asserts that she is ill, not because God willed it, but because there is evil in the world. (In other words, bad things happen to good people.).

The breaking of these six rules or understandings did not go unnoticed by the Jewish leaders. The leader of the synagogue was shocked by Jesus' behavior and let it be known, saying:

"There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day."

He was like the usher in a church where a man under the influence staggered into the service and sat on the front row.

As the preacher started his sermon, the gentleman shouted "Amen" or "Praise the Lord" or "Hallelujah" after almost every sentence.

The entire congregation was becoming agitated about this unusual behavior so the usher made his way to the front to escort the gentleman out.

When the usher informed him that he was making too much noise, he replied, "Well, brother, I've just got the Holy Spirit!"

To which the usher replied, "Well, you didn't get it here so you gotta leave!"

By the power of God Jesus healed the bent over woman, and the synagogue leader's response was, "Well, you didn't get the power of God here! Not on the Sabbath!"

But the Lord answered him and said,

"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 free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?"

Jesus reacted with strong language because the leader of the synagogue just didn't get it. He had no concept of Jesus' radical understanding of the nature of God nor of the purpose for which Jesus came.

Jesus saw God's will as focused on people, not on rules. The rules are there to help people, not to break them. They are there to help us fly like the eagles God made us to be, not to turn us into chickens.

The ruler of the synagogue reflected the understanding that being "religious" was about obeying the commandments.

It's a view that is still with us today. It is found in those conservatives who insist on correct doctrine and belief before all other things - and in those liberals whose only criteria of what faith is about is related to the good deeds that we do, or fail to do.

For Jesus, God's chief concern was that we should love and care for another; that all people should be brought into a healing and saving relationship with himself - and with one another.

To Jesus, God is not primarily a rule-maker, rather God is a life-giver.

When we understand Jesus' view of God, suddenly the focus moves from God's law to God's love for people and the world. Commandments, rules, guidelines, and traditions are subordinate to God's love - a love that is forgiving - a love that is healing - a love that is transforming - a love that sets us free to be all that God made us to be.

Paul reflects on this in today's selection from his Letter to the Hebrews.

Thinking of the events that occurred at Mount Sinai where Moses received the Law, he writes:

"You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire, to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words such that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: "If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned."

We have not come, in other words, to a holy place, which we need to be protected from on account of our sin.

Rather, as Paul continues:

You have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.

You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.

You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The blood of Abel, you will recall, cries out from the earth for justice and retribution, but the blood of the new Covenant speaks to us not of justice and retribution, but rather it speaks to us of forgiveness and of reconciliation.

That forgiveness, that reconciliation, allows us to enter the holiest of holy places without fear.

We have come - in coming to Christ - to a new place, to a place of the Spirit, to a kingdom which cannot be shaken because it is not built out of perishable things, but rather out of imperishable things.

We have come - and are coming to the place where the angels gather in joy and where our names are recorded - and we are counted as the first born - as those who will inherit with Christ all that God has stored up for his beloved.

We are children of the King - meant to come to that place where those who love God, those who are in right relationship with God and seek to do his will, are made perfect.

There is a mystery here.
- The mystery of our communion, our oneness, with God through Christ Jesus;
- the mystery of how, despite our failings, God sees us and treats us as his beloved,
- where he treats us as eagles rather than as chickens.

Life sometimes has a way of beating us down,
zapping our enthusiasm,
crushing our plans.

Little by little we can find ourselves bent over from the failures, disappointments, and guilt.

And little by little we can find others placing burdens upon us and robbing us of our status as the children of Abraham - the children of promise, - those who have been called to come to Mount Zion - to the heavenly city of God.

We can end up like the bent over woman
- lurking at the edges of the sanctuary, wondering where can we go.

This is the place - not these four walls which can be shaken but this assembly - where Jesus walks among us and reveals to us the fullness of the love of God.

Don't refuse Jesus because you feel unworthy of his call.

Rather, come to Christ knowing that it is his will to set you free from those things that make you less than person he created you to be -- and that in coming to his heavenly mountain you will find life instead of death - and mercy instead of judgement.

Let us pray...
Lord God, loving Christ. We need your help today. We come to you just as we are, trusting in your great mercy by which we have been anew to a living hope through Christ Jesus. Oh lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world - grant us your peace - and bring us to your holy mountain and to the multitude of angels who sing for joy in your presence. Amen.

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2004

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 5th Sunday in Great Lent Kfiphtho / Crippled Woman)

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