“What is God Like?”
By Pastor Jerry Donovan
Luke 13:10-17 is a story of a woman who was crippled and bent over. This is both a story of confrontation about Sabbath laws and a story of liberation. Jesus is on His final journey up to Jerusalem. He stops in a synagogue on His way through Samaria on the Sabbath. He heals a woman who has been crippled for 18 years. The leader of the synagogue is indignant. Violations of Sabbath law is very important in many observant Jewish communities. This is an argument about Sabbath law, about a daughter of Abraham, and the leader of the synagogue.
The argument that Jesus makes is a classic rabbinic argument that moves from a matter of minor importance to something of major importance. Jesus’ argument is, “You all take your ox or your donkey and untie and lead it away to give it water, a little thing. The big thing is this woman who has been down for eighteen years. Shouldn’t she also be given the privilege of being untied from her bondage on the Sabbath day?”
The comparison is: if it’s true for the minor thing, for your ox or your donkey to work on the Sabbath, then isn’t it also okay to make an exception in relation to a major thing, namely, this woman’s life?
Sabbath was a cornerstone of Jewish identity. It was what made Jews different from Gentiles because Gentiles did not observe the Sabbath. The observation of Sabbath law was especially important to the Pharisees. Not all Jews cared; many of them were like secular Jews now as well as secular Christians who don’t care about the Sabbath. But the Pharisees did, as did all Jews who were concerned about doing what was right and observing religious laws. They were like Christians who go to church every Sunday and who pay attention to doing what is right.
Jesus was also concerned. He is involved in debates with the Pharisees about the weightier matters of the law because He does care. Throughout the Gospels He gets involved in controversies of what is more important about Sabbath law observance. Jesus does not at any time say that the Sabbath should not be observed. His arguments are about what is most important to happen on the Sabbath day, that healing and caring for the sick are of sufficient importance that they are worth doing on the Sabbath day.
Jesus spent much of His ministry in a struggle to portray a different way of imagining God that matches the reality. God is not to be shown as the aloof king and powerful father, rather as the mother looking for a lost coin and the dad running down the road to meet a lost son. The facades of dignity are dropped in favor of affection and caring. It is a very different model of God and produces a very different way of handling human life and biblical tradition.
The two models represented in the story reflect deep devotion. Both in different ways protect some things that are valuable. Both are based on scripture. One is healing. So is the other, but healing is subordinate to other concerns. We are left guessing about the healing process. The story, however, appropriately reflects a different kind of paralysis which is chronic in religious communities. This story and its discussion offers an opportunity for healing.
God Be With You