Now Jesus 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." —Luke 13:10-14
Team Wise is now six days into the new school year with two first graders. And I’d say the transition from summer life to stricter bedtimes, earlier mornings, hair-brushing, and mandatory shoe-wearing has been a little rocky. There are a couple of refrains from our protesting twins in the evenings: “But I didn’t have enough time to play with my friends!” “I’m not tired yet!” “My hair doesn’t want to be brushed right now!” All of these seem to boil down to the same complaint: “These rules are getting in the way of my fun.”
While I’m sure that’s true, the rules are also necessary for the well-being of the household. There are (unpleasant) consequences when they don’t get enough sleep or don’t eat enough breakfast. But there are also costs that come with these rules. On school nights, dinner and shower time is sometimes rushed rather than relaxed. We don’t have as much time to build with Legos or create artwork or swing in the backyard together.
In this Sunday’s Gospel text, we may quickly jump to condemnation of the leader of the synagogue and his defending of the rules, but keeping the sabbath was (and is) one of the rules most necessary for the well-being of the household of Israel. You could make the argument that, like the airline baggage employee or the manager at Target, the synagogue leader is just doing his job. He didn’t make the rules. He’s just trying to enforce them. Jesus’ freeing the woman from her crippling debilitation is, in fact, in violation of the sabbath laws. And yet it is the good, right, and godly thing. The rules are sacredly important. But so are Jesus’ actions.
You don’t have to study church governance or church history for long to know that our institutional practices and policies do (sometimes often) get in the way of the Holy Spirit’s fun. And yet the intent and ministry of the institution is to facilitate and protect the Holy Spirit’s fun. Sometimes we get in our own way.
Perhaps the invitation of this Gospel passage is for us as a parish, and for each of us as individuals, to reflect on the practices that function like rules in our spiritual lives:
• Where are they helpful in creating space for God to move in?
• Where do they hinder the flow of God’s grace?
• Are any of them outdated? Perhaps they worked in a previous chapter of your life/our life together, but now need to be adjusted to reflect new realities.
• Are there any that need to be jettisoned?
• Do we need any new practices in place for the well-being of our household?