"Breaking Rules, Making Miracles" – Luke 13:10-17
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 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?” When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
There are many ways to go with a story like this one. Of course, so many people, for so many generations, have been drawn to the miracle of it all – like so many other healing miracles, we are drawn to the miracle of what Jesus does for the woman who’d been sick and crippled for so long. And that’s great – and good and holy thing, for sure – but that healing is only a small part of the story. And not really the point of it all, in the end.
And it reminded me that that’s the case with most – if not all – of Jesus’ miracles, really. They are less about the hocus pocus, abracadabra of it all than they are about telling a better story… teaching a larger lesson … proclaiming a wider mercy, love, and grace not just because of what Jesus does in those magical moments – but because of how and why and when and where and for whom, in most cases, God does what God does through Jesus.
Think about the miracles of Jesus, with me – right from the beginning – starting with the virgin birth, for example. The most impressive thing about all of that – the greatest lesson, for my money, isn’t so much about immaculate conception. The hope of Mary’s motherhood is about a young woman who had faith enough to say “yes” to God. The power of that story comes from the notion that God would use a poor peasant girl to do an amazing thing for the sake of the world. It’s about casting down the mighty down from their thrones and uplifting the humble in heart. It was about the creator of the universe using the creative power of a human womb to become like one of us in every way.
And think about the miracle of Jesus turning water into wine, at that wedding in Cana. It could have been milk or honey or Coca-Cola, the substance of it didn’t matter so much. The point was – the lesson to be learned, the good news was – that there was more than enough to go around and that God always saves the best for last.
Or what about the miracle of the guy who was born blind but for who Jesus helped see again? His friends and neighbors thought he had been born blind because of something he or his parents did to make him deserve that hardship. So when Jesus restores his sight, it wasn’t about the miracle of Lasik surgery in the 1st Century. It was about showing that God doesn’t punish us with sickness or disability. It was about showing, perhaps that, even if you believed that his blindness was the result of some sin, God could and would and does delight in undoing that through the power of forgiveness.
Or that time Jesus walked on water, he wasn’t proposing a new Olympic sport, he was showing us something about faith. When he calmed the storm, he wasn’t concerned about the weather, he was revealing the power of God’s peace in the presence of our fear. When he cleansed the leper it wasn’t about better skin-care it was about God’s love for the outcast and the outsider in our midst.
Do you see what I mean? As much as we love a good miracle story, the magic of it all is rarely the point. And today’s episode, in the synagogue is no different.
It’s great that this woman who’d been hunched over, crippled, for nearly two decades was “up-and-at ‘em” again without the help of a chiropractor, don’t get me wrong. But in light of what we know about the kind of things Jesus can do, this isn’t the most impressive thing about that day. What we’re supposed to pay attention to – what matters most about all of this in the first place – is that it happened on the Sabbath. The Lord’s day. The day of rest and for worship.
I mean, it wouldn’t have meant as much had the woman done what the leader of the synagogue suggested and come back for her healing the next day, right? It would have been great. It would have been no less miraculous had Jesus commanded this woman to stand up for the first time in 18 years, like on a Tuesday or a Wednesday. But, again, the miracle – the healing, itself – is barely the point.
So, miracle, schmiracle. It can’t be just about the miracle or else all we’re left with is the hopeless reality that we can’t do what Jesus does and that Jesus doesn’t do what he can for everyone, in every way we would like. So there must be something more than the miracle here.
And the “more,” Jesus’ greater point and larger purpose today, is to heal and to comfort and to share love and grace at all costs. In excess of every expectation. At the expense of every rule. Breaking the rule about working or healing or whatever on the Sabbath is Jesus’ larger mission – and our greatest hope – this time around.
The point seems to be that the only rule that matters to Jesus is the one about loving God and loving neighbor and living in any way and every way possible that brings that love to bear upon the world – so to Hell with the rules. Literally. (No kids, I didn’t just say a bad word, for the sake of it. I mean to Hell with the rules. Let the rules go away to the outer darkness. Let the rules be subject to whatever weeping and gnashing of teeth it takes to dismember them.)
And that’s something I can sink my teeth into. That’s something I can wrap my brain around. That’s something each of us can do something about – breaking the rules, I mean – that keep God’s love from being shared in as many ways, with as many people as we can manage.
When someone tells you you can’t or shouldn’t love someone because…
When your own score-keeping, rule-abiding heart tells you you shouldn’t forgive someone because or until…
When your own fear tries to convince you you shouldn’t be that generous
When society tells you you shouldn’t extend mercy because…
When your own history and experience tells you you should or shouldn’t, or can or can’t because “that’s not the way you’ve ever done it before”…
In the face of whatever rules or expectations that threaten to limit what God can accomplish by grace, for you and through you, Jesus gets up in the synagogue on the Sabbath day and breaks the rules. He breaks the law so that we can see just how brave and bold and beyond reason God’s love means to be. And how beyond the rules we are called to be, just the same.
Because we can’t heal every disease, but we can love one another through the sickness and struggle and sadness of them all – and that’s a miracle.
We can’t change the weather, but we can trust God’s presence when the storms of our lives come – and that can be magical.
We can’t undo every sin, or change every sinner, but we can accept and offer forgiveness – and that’s no small feat.
We can’t walk on water, but we reach out to an outcast or an outsider and welcome them in – and that work wonders in the lives of God’s people.
Because the greatest miracle of all – Jesus’ resurrection from the dead – shows just how far God is willing to go to break every rule for our sake. And the miracle of that isn’t just something we wait for on the other side of heaven. In a world full of so many rules, too much fear, and so much sadness that try to convince us otherwise, we are set free from all sorts of bondage, like the woman in today’s Gospel, to live in the miracle of new life and second chances and amazing grace, every day, in Jesus’ name.