Scripture: Luke 13:10-17
A couple of weeks ago, I ran across an Internet challenge that stuck with me. I saw it on Twitter, and the challenge was to share an unpopular opinion about something you like. Often on social media when someone makes a post that begins with sharing an unpopular opinion they then go on to explain why they hate something that is popular. Often sharing an unpopular opinion is a hot take on why we think others are wrong about liking something we think is terrible. As presented the “unpopular opinion post” is negative. So this challenge turned it on its head. It was a challenge to share something you like that a lot of people usually have a negative opinion towards. I thought about this, and it was honestly harder than I thought it would be. I did think one though. I like the song Old Town Road by Lil Nas X. If you are not familiar with this song, then ask a 6-14 year old, because there is a good chance they love it. This song is popular among that crowd, but among people my age and older it tends to be viewed in a strongly negative light. However, I legitimately like the song and think it is actually well written.
This little challenge stuck out to me, because it point out how rare it is to see people celebrate things they love. It really feels like it is far more common to find people express negativity. There is a reason why the number one rule on the Internet is to never, ever read the comments. The comments on a video or article tend to always be a cesspool of negativity as anonymous commenters go back and forth in an apparent race to the bottom of human decency. Today it is so much easier to find criticism than encouragement. It often feels like that today, trying to pull others down is the default instead of building others up.
It does seem giving an audience, relative anonymity, and an environment that has almost zero consequences for our words brings out the absolute worse in some people. It can be easy for us to think that pervasive negativity is just an ugly side of our modern day and age. However, this morning’s scripture shows that it is has always been an issue. Hate filled comments are not a creation of the Internet. This morning’s scripture shows us that critics are always going to tear down and haters are always going to hate. However, the example Jesus gives shows us that we should make a difference anyway.
What happened in this story is a surprisingly common occurrence in the gospels. Jesus healed people but he did not care about what day it was on. If the person who needed help came to Jesus on the Sabbath, then Jesus healed on the Sabbath. On multiple occasions this got Jesus in trouble with religious leaders. In the gospel of John, not honoring the Sabbath by healing on it was one of the primary avenues of opposing Jesus the Pharisees took to going after Jesus. At first glance we have to wonder how on earth could anyone opposes a miraculous healing? In this scripture, we have a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. Eighteen years! With a touch Jesus healed her. We have to keep in mind that in these small towns where Jesus was teaching, were the places where everyone knew everyone else. It was not like this woman was a stranger. The synagogue leader would have known this woman for years, and when he saw the impossible happen before his very eyes, what was his first response? Did he praise God for the incredible nature of the miracle? No, the scripture records that he became “indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath.” This can really make us say, wait. . .what?
It is worth remembering though, that this synagogue leader and the Pharisees were not truly evil villains. In fact they probably saw themselves as the good guys. They were care takers of tradition, and we cannot underestimate how powerful tradition is. One of the important traditions in the Jewish faith, even today, is the observation of the Sabbath. One of the Ten Commandments is to keep the Sabbath holy, and the law in the Torah further establishes what that means. In order to follow these rules the Jews built a hedge around the Torah, the established extra rules to follow to ensure that the sacred rules would never be violated. For instance, Exodus 35:3 prohibits the lighting of a fire in a dwelling during the Sabbath. Some Orthodox Jews today interpret this as meaning that light switches cannot be turned on in a house on the Sabbath. There were many so rules even in Jesus’ day. It was the Pharisees and synagogue leaders’ responsibility to uphold the tradition and help others follow them so that the people could best honor God by following God’s rules. This is why the Synagogue Leader said, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” It could be argued, from a certain point of view, that the leader was doing his best to faithfully uphold the tradition.
Jesus, though, was not having it. We almost always think of Jesus as kind and loving. Yet in this scripture he gets a little heated and calls them hypocrites. Jesus had a couple of good reasons for doing so. First, there is nothing in the Torah that explicitly prohibits healing on the Sabbath. To say otherwise, is to impose a manmade rule on top of God’s rules. Second, Jesus points out that in the multitude of rules about what does constitute work, there are exceptions. In verse 15 Jesus points out that even though it is technically work, people were apparently allowed to take their animals to get life-giving water. In the same way, Jesus healed this woman and gave her life back to her. If someone is allowed to work on the Sabbath for the wellbeing of an animal, then surely healing that provides for the wellbeing of another person has to be permitted. To say otherwise is indeed hypocritical. In this morning’s scripture Jesus exposes that their reason for opposing him is not because of a high flying ideal of honoring God. Jesus exposed that all of the accusations against Jesus healing on the Sabbath were really just personal attacks against him.
Often overly-critical comments and downright hate have a lot less to do with us and more to do with the people the people making the comments. Often negative comments spring out of negativity from the lives of the person making the comment. Perhaps the negativity springs from insecurity, perhaps it springs from jealousy, or perhaps it springs from having one’s personal comfort threatened. It is hard to say what the motivation of the synagogue leader was. It could have been jealousy or insecurity. He had set himself up as the religious authority of his village, he was respected as the one who really knew the scripture. But then this upstart rabbi comes in and begins to speak with a depth and authority that is well beyond the synagogue leader. On top of that, Jesus can do miracles that seem impossible. Instead of embracing the miraculous work of God in front of him, it is possible the synagogue leader instead embraced jealousy that he could not do what Jesus did and he embraced his own insecure feelings of inadequacy. That could have been what caused him to knee-jerk question the healing.
Of course there is a more insidious option, it could be the synagogue leader questioned Jesus intentionally in a power move to put Jesus in his place. The synagogue leader would have likely been a Pharisee, and Jesus was a threat to this religious class of elites. The Pharisees had set themselves up as the arbiters of the law. They were the gatekeepers between God and the people, and the greatly enjoyed that role. Jesus threatened that though. The message he preached that the Kingdom of God is near as well as the grace and forgiveness he offered was an assault on the castle of tradition that the Pharisees built up. It is possible that the leader’s reaction was not just a lashing out fueled by insecurity and jealousy. It is possible it was a calculated move to oppose Jesus because he was a threat to personal power and security.
If we skip to the end of the gospels we see the actions that the Pharisees later took arresting Jesus, holding a kangaroo court, and getting him executed on trumped up charges were largely motivated by this threat to their personal standing. Jesus knew this would be the case, Jesus knew that the road his ministry was on ended on Calvary hill. Jesus was doing the right thing, and he knew there would be fallout and repercussions. It did not matter. Jesus made a difference anyway.
As followers of Christ, we should follow that example. On one hand we know that, but following through on that is not always as easy. We might have a desire to want to make a difference, but often when we try there is opposition. There are going to be naysayers, and there are going to be people who almost intentionally stand in the way. This is even true when doing something that is an absolute positive.
The story of Arnold Abbot illustrates this perfectly. He passed away earlier this year after spending over 20 years feeding the homeless in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He did this through a ministry he headed up called Love Thy Neighbor and he served food on the beach twice a week in a county that has over 10,000 people who are homeless. Doing this has brought Arnold into conflict with the police and local authorities. The most recent time was in 2014 when Abbot was 90 years old. That year the city of Fort Lauderdale recently enacted new ordinances that created so many impossible to meet restriction that it effectively made what Arnold Abbot had been doing for years illegal. Abbot faced a choice. He could follow the law or break it and feed the homeless. He chose to break the law and fed the homeless. He was arrested. Two days later, he did it again. He was arrested again. In an interview, Abbot said that he believes “in love thy neighbor as thyself”. When a reporter asked why he defied the law Arnold said, “These are the poorest of the poor . . . who could turn them away?” All told he got arrested four times for breaking the ordinances. Eventually the city relented, and realized there is not much you can do stop a 90-year old if they have their mind set to do something.
Arnold Abbot was following the example of Jesus, and loving the least of these. Local authorities did not like the homeless congregating on the beach, but Abbot went ahead and made a difference anyway.
Under threat of arrest, Arnold Abbot fed the hungry and made a difference. In this morning’s scripture, Jesus saw a woman in need and he healed her even though he knew the religious authorities would not like. He made a difference anyway. All who follow Jesus, have a choice. We either follow Jesus or we do not. If we choose to follow Jesus, then that will lead us to making a difference, and if we start making a difference there will be resistance. If we serve the least of these and the people who are in the most need, then some critic will show up to say say we should support more deserving people, or it is a waste of resources, or we are not helping enough people to bother with it in the first place. We should ignore those voices, and make a difference anyway. I think there are two types of people in this world. When confronted with all that is broken and wrong in this world, there are people who will do all they can to get comfortable and then heap negative criticism upon everyone else. The other type of person, when confronted with a world that is fallen and wrought with sin, see opportunities to make a real difference and transform this world into a more kind, loving, and just place. Instead of heaping negativity these people seek to uncover and give life to what is good and positive. In other words, there are two types of people in this world. There are the haters who are going to hate, and then there are those who are going to make a difference anyway.
So may we, as disciples of Jesus Christ-the most holy Son of God, seek to be the people who make a difference anyway. May we be slow to be overly critical and may be quick to encourage. May we be reluctant to nitpick one another, but may we cheer each other in efforts to serve others and meet the needs around us. I am honored to get to be part of a faith community that is already doing so much to meet the needs in the community around us, and it is my most sincere prayer that we will continue to find ways to make a difference, meet needs, and share the love of God with others through our actions. Seeking to expand our outreach and help more people might lead to friction or even opposition, but may we follow the example of our Lord and Savior. May we make a difference anyway.