Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 21, 2016

2016.08.21 ” The Problem with a Partial View” – Luke 13: 10 – 17

Central United Methodist Church
The Problem with a Partial View
Pastor David L. Haley
Luke 13: 10 – 17
August 21st, 2016

BentWoman

Jesus was teaching in one of the meeting places on the Sabbath. There was a woman present, so twisted and bent over with arthritis that she couldn’t even look up. She had been afflicted with this for eighteen years. When Jesus saw her, he called her over. “Woman, you’re free!” He laid hands on her and suddenly she was standing straight and tall, giving glory to God.

The meeting-place president, furious because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the congregation, “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath.”

But Jesus shot back, “You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?”

When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and redfaced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.” – Luke 13: 10 – 17, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

As an entrance to today’s story of the “Woman Bent Over,” I would like to use an idea suggested by Alyce McKenzie, Professor of worship and preaching at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Professor McKenzie has suggested that one way to think about the “Woman Bent Over,” is as a woman with a “partial view.”*

WrigleyPartialAll of us who are theater or concert goers and especially Cub fans know what I mean by a “partial” or “obstructed” view. Week after next, my son Chris and his family are coming to visit and in the tradition of my baseball-loving family, 3 generations of Haley’s are going to a Cubs game. As you know, with the Cubs doing well right now tickets are ridiculously expensive, and I agonized to find a balance between decent seats and reasonable price, especially when one of us – at 4 1/2 years old – is likely to lose interest before the end of one inning. My concern is that I am going to discover I have bought seats with a “partial” view, meaning one of Wrigley Field’s support pillars will be between me and home plate. How can I yell at the umpire, if I am as blind as he? In the old days you could always start in at partial view seats and later move to more “front row” seats, but now they don’t allow that anymore.

On the other hand, sometimes “partial view” seats can be a good deal. When Michele and I go to see Chanticleer at Fourth Presbyterian Church each December, our choice seats are the reduced price balcony seats, which – though they are partial view – are so close that the sound is excellent. Who needs to SEE singers sing, as long as you can HEAR them sing?

Understanding this concept of “partial view,” we can appreciate the plight of this poor woman in the synagogue, who – due to her physical condition AND resulting social status – was restricted to a partial view, not just occasionally, but ALL the time.

Reflecting the understanding of the time, the text uses the strange expression “spirit of infirmity,” interpreting her condition to be a physical effect of a demonic power. In reality, who knows whether it was a congenital deformity, degenerative arthritis, the result of back-breaking labor, or even physical abuse. I have seen – in Africa and India – women like that, bent over carrying heavy loads on their backs, which over time takes its toll on your body.

Whatever it was in this unnamed woman’s case, it controls her, burdens her, bends her like a human pretzel, and blocks her. Such that for 18 years this unnamed woman must strain to see the sun, the sky, and the stars. For 18 years she has been accustomed to looking down or slightly ahead but never up, not without difficulty. For 18 years her world has consisted of turning from side to side to see what those who stand upright can see with a glance. For 18 years she has lived a life with a partial view.

Though the text doesn’t say so – given what people believed then – that physical infirmity was connected to moral and spiritual failure – quite likely her condition also relegated her to a back seat in the synagogue as well, perhaps behind a wall or a pillar. After all, women couldn’t worship with men (as they still can’t in orthodox synagogues or mosques), and her physical condition likely made her more marginal, easy to exclude and ignore.

Given the woman’s status, don’t you find it incredibly revealing that out of all the people there that day, Jesus sees her, calls to her, invites her to come to him? She does not approach Jesus nor make any request of him; nor does Jesus say anything about repentance or faith. All Jesus says, is: “Woman, you’re free!” The text said he laid his hands on her; how do you think he did that? Do you think he put his hands on her back, or do you think he got down on the floor on his knees, to look her in the face, the only way she’d easily be able to see him?

Suddenly, the woman stood up straight and tall, giving glory to God. The Greek word for “raise up” is also used for the rebuilding of a house. That is what Jesus does; he raises people up, restoring them to their original beauty. She must have felt like I feel in the morning when I get the kinks out of my back and stand up straight, although I can’t say I always remember to give God the glory. Not only was her posture changed, but also her perspective on life: “Thanks and glory be to God!”

Truth be told, most of us thank God alright, we thank God we’re not like that poor woman. But if not physically deformed, don’t many of us feel like we are bent out of shape? That the burdens we bear in our hearts and minds, show in our bent backs and furrowed faces. Like this poor woman, we too, need to hear the word of Jesus: “Stand up straight and be free!”

And what of those who may be deformed or disabled in body or mind, or – if not deformed or disabled – still know the pain of being marginalized and alone. As often the case, do we exclude and avoid them out of our own fear and anxiety, or do we do as Jesus did to this woman: acknowledge them and pay extra special attention to them, treating them with compassion and respect, even if it means we have to deform ourselves, and get down – as Jesus may have done – on our hands and knees.

You’d think everyone there would have been thrilled at this miraculous turn of events; after all, they were in a synagogue, where a woman was praising God after being miraculously healed after 18 years of suffering. Who could have a problem with that?

Glenda as Screamer

“Jesus, The Woman Bent Over, and the Leader of the Synagogue as Munch’s ‘The Screamer’,” by Rev. Glenda Skinner-Noble.

Well, it turns out there was one (there always is), the leader of the synagogue, who as it turns out is a poster child for people with a partial view. (Did you see the picture I posted in the weekly email, by the Rev. Glenda Skinner-Noble, an ordained Elder in the Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church: “Jesus, The Woman Bent Over, and the Leader of the Synagogue as painter Edward Munch’s ‘The Screamer.'”) If you think the woman had a partial view due to her physical condition, he had an even worse one due to his limited perspective, his tunnel vision. Even though a woman who had suffered for 18 years was miraculously healed, his problem with it was not that it happened in synagogue, but that it happened on the Sabbath. It was a scheduling problem (as if you can schedule a miracle). “Six days have been defined as work days. Come on one of the six if you want to be healed, but not on the seventh, the Sabbath,” he said. Makes you wonder if there was a sign on the wall, saying: “No Healing Here, sunset Friday to sunset Saturday.”

In some ways, we get it, don’t we? After all, for those of us who try to follow the rules, keeping the Sabbath is one of the 10 commandments, or at least it used to be, before malls were open and school sports were scheduled on Sunday. While we may barely observe it at all, we should remember some still take this rule very seriously. When we were in Jerusalem a few years ago, driving a rental car, it was important to not to accidentally drive into Mea Shearim, a haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) neighborhood on the Sabbath, unless you want to literally be stoned. (Don’t want to take your rental car back in that condition!) Even here in Skokie you see them, observant Jews walking to temple on the Sabbath. Sometimes – when I see them – it makes me feel irreligious.

Rules are important, but sometimes – for the greater good – rules must be broken. The trick is the moral discernment to know when to FOLLOW rules, but also when to BREAK rules; again, for a greater good.

For this, Jesus had not a partial view, as did the woman and the leader of the synagogue, but a FRONT ROW SEAT. For Jesus, the rules of the Mosaic Law and the Jewish social holiness code were important; after all, he was an observant Jew in a synagogue on the Sabbath. But in the end, this was what made him trans-formative: all those laws were subordinate to the greater VALUES of justice and mercy. So if helping a stooped woman in synagogue on a Sabbath creates a crisis, then crisis it has to be.

And so he says to the protesting synagogue leader, in a “play on words” which Eugene Peterson captures:

“You frauds! Each Sabbath every one of you regularly unties your cow or donkey from its stall, leads it out for water, and thinks nothing of it. So why isn’t it all right for me to untie this daughter of Abraham and lead her from the stall where Satan has had her tied these eighteen years?”

I like how Eugene Peterson translates what happens next:  “When he put it that way, his critics were left looking quite silly and red-faced. The congregation was delighted and cheered him on.” What the text does not say is this: at the end of this story, the woman walks out of the synagogue erect, dignified, and joyful, to the cheers of the crowd.

Let’s face it, all of us have a partial view, and we should acknowledge that. We are products of our upbringing, our history, our culture, even our white privilege; we are also sometimes victims of our own pessimism and cynicism. Sometimes we get stuck in the rules, so stuck in the tall grass that we fail to see the amazing things God is doing in the “BIG PICTURE,” right before our eyes.

So today – through what we have learned from this story, let us move – even if a few rows at a time – from partial view seats to front row seats with Jesus.

  • Even though people are imperfect, poor, rude, rough, and sometimes even objectionable, Jesus receives them.
  • Even though people are on the fringes of society, even though they are non-elite/working people, or foreigners ordinarily avoided, Jesus receives them.
  • No matter their background or status, Jesus receives them with the same equanimity, respect, and concern.

And so Jesus notices this woman and respects her, he deals with her tenderly and lovingly. He summons her out of the isolation into which she has withdrawn, out of a sense of shame, and sets her free – both physically and spiritually – such that she stands upright and praises God.

So it turns out – for Jesus and for Luke and for us – that the best way to celebrate the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day – is to raise up men and women to their original form, to delight in our divine dignity and to praise God, the creator of human dignity. When we do this, we all go on way more upright.

So it turns out, a partial view seat might not be the best bargain after all. Not when it obstructs our view of God’s desire that all God’s children be restored to dignity and community, whatever day of the week it is.

*Alyce M. McKenzie, “Partial View Seats: Reflections on Luke 13:10-17,” Edgy Exegesis, August 15, 2013. http://www.patheos.com/Progressive-Christian/Partial-View-Seats-Alyce-McKenzie-08-16-2013

 

 

 

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