Holy Work, Holy Sabbath

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
Proper 16/Year C: August 21, 2022
Luke 13:10-17

Lord, take our minds and think through them. Take our mouths and speak through them. Take our hearts, and set them on fire. Amen.

I remember as a child growing up in Virginia, most stores, including grocery stores, being closed on Sunday. Mom would “stock up” on certain ingredients at the grocery store, prior to Sunday, for her Sunday dinner recipes.  By the time I was old enough to work, the department store, where I worked, was open on Sundays. When employees were scheduled to work on Sundays, we received “Sunday pay,” a small increase to the normal hourly wage, acknowledging that there was something different about Sunday. The store even closed at 6pm on Sunday, not at 9pm. Though not explicitly communicated, the company attempted to build in ways to set Sunday apart from every other day. But for those for whom Sunday was a Sabbath day, myself included, working on Sunday never felt quite right.

One of the 10 Commandments serves as the focal point for the conflict between Jesus and the synagogue leader in today’s gospel in the thirteenth chapter of Luke. “For six days you shall labour 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.”1

Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, on the Sabbath, when he saw a woman bent over, unable to stand up straight. For 18 years the nameless, faceless woman, had endured the crippling of her body. The gospel writer is very minimalist in describing the woman and her ailment. We are not told whether or not she was in pain, or if she had, over those 18 years, actually sought healing on the six days on which work could be done. We are not told if she had been, over those 18 years, ignored and dismissed by the synagogue leaders or by those in the community.

Although Jesus was known for his power to heal the sick, we cannot assume that the woman showed up to the synagogue seeking Jesus. As a Jewish woman, she would have been well aware of the law, and would not have expected to be healed on the Sabbath, even if she had gone there seeking Jesus.

We do not know why the woman was there, only that she was there, and that Jesus saw her. When Jesus saw the woman, he called her over and proclaimed the woman set free from her ailment and laid hands on her. The healing was visible to all in the synagogue marked by the woman’s ability to stand up straight. Her reaction to Jesus’ response to her human need was praise to God. But the woman’s praise to God, witnessed by a crowd, was interrupted by the nameless leader of the synagogue, who lashed out at the crowd with a stern reminder of the law. There were six other days when anyone could come to the synagogue to be cured, just not on the Sabbath.

While the religious leader did not directly address the woman or Jesus, the shame he intended to blanket all present was directed to the crowd. His first reaction to the healing was not praise to God, but “Shame on all of you for supporting the disrespect for the law.”  Shame on the woman for even coming to the synagogue on the Sabbath to be cured. The synagogue leader assumed that the woman was there to be cured of her ailment, but again we cannot assume why she was there.

Jesus responded with a practical reality, arguing from lesser to greater, from animal to human, which justified the appropriateness, and necessity, for curing on the Sabbath. Jesus argued that, even on the Sabbath, each one of his criticizers untied his animal from the manger to lead it away to give it water. If such work was done, on the Sabbath, for the compassionate care of animals, how could anyone refuse to set free, from illness, a Daughter of Abraham, one of their own, bound by Satan for 18 years? Surely, the human life of the nameless, faceless woman, whom Jesus had now assigned a name of great dignity, Daughter of Abraham, demanded release from captivity. Refusing to do so would be shameful. Having heard this, Jesus’ opponents, attempting to shame the woman, Jesus and the crowd, were themselves put to shame. The crowd rejoiced at all of the wonderful things Jesus was doing.

This gospel passage is not about Jesus ignoring the law. Remember that Jesus was a devout Jew who respected Jewish law. Jesus came not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill the law so that the law itself would not be twisted, by humans, into yet another form of earthly oppression for God’s people.

In healing the woman, Jesus was saying to the defenders of Torah law, yes God’s commandments must be followed, and life happens; we must make room for life. For the crippled woman, Jesus came so that she might have life and have it abundantly.2 And, Jesus came, for us, so that we, too, might have life and have it abundantly.

The crippling of the human body and soul manifests in myriad ways—some visible and invisible to the human eye. As the body of Christ, the Church is compelled to seek out the nameless and faceless human beings, with whom we share this temporal world. We are to seek the invisible beings out using the compassionate eyes of Christ—the same eyes that saw a woman in the synagogue and recognized her need for physical and spiritual restoration, even when she might have given up hope for her own healing, and when others, within that same sacred space, had not noticed her.

In our society, where unjust structures create a crippling socioeconomic environment of healthcare, education, food and housing insecurity, we have seen the many faces of this nameless woman.  Some people just accept a less-than-abundant life, and live with the spiritual wounds of grief, grievance, guilt and unforgiveness, binding themselves with the spiritually-crippling states of helplessness and hopelessness for years, perhaps a lifetime. Jesus sees, and knows, that we are all the walking wounded. And, accepting anything that keeps us from living the abundant life through Jesus, which He intended, must be rejected.

Just as Jesus responded to the human need of the woman with compassion, he meets us today in this temporal world—where life happens—to liberate us from the myriad ties that bind our bodies and souls. This is the holy work that God calls us to when we choose to follow his Son. It is the holy work that ensures that all people feel seen and cared for as Jesus sees and cares for us.  It is the holy work of respecting the dignity of every human being, addressing them with the name of great dignity—Child of God. It is the holy work of setting captives free, from whatever binds them, on any day, and especially on the Sabbath—with the life-giving, liberating gospel message. This holy work, God’s work, patterned by Jesus, inherently calls to remembrance the Sabbath and keeps it holy.

May this holy, kingdom-building work, inspire ceaseless praise and rejoicing to God for all of the wonderful things that God has done, is doing and, that, we believe by faith, will do, for us.


1 Exodus 20:9-10; Deuteronomy 5:13-14

2 John 10:10