TRINITY 12 Proper 16 Year C

Sabbath praise

You wouldn’t have noticed her, there at the back, just half the height of the others, no chance for face-to-face conversation, the years of not being able to see around, of not engaging with others, of not being seen - and the debilitating pain of it. It was an ordinary Sabbath in what might be any synagogue - any church today. On this day - there - Jesus, the itinerant rabbi of Nazareth , was the guest preacher. He noticed her and, in what followed on that ordinary Sabbath day, a whole geography of our spiritual lives is laid out before us.

There is a sense of Lent and of the Passion. It was there in the Old Testament reading from Isaiah 58: If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted - this chapter from Isaiah is the chapter in which the Lord declares the kind of fast He chooses. It was there in the New Testament reading from Hebrews: the giving of the Law, the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Here in Luke, this Gospel story sits between passages read in Lent: Jesus’ warning of the unfruitful fig-tree that will be cut down and his lament over Jerusalem as the city that kills the prophets, even as he sets his face towards it.

We may be in ordinary time, ‘after Trinity’, as we say but we are not allowed to forget that purifying of our vision for which the fast of Lent prepares us, nor to forget the call to live our lives by hope: the hope of change, the hope that God will be with us. That space, that recollection to hope – isn’t this what the Sabbath is for?

Not in the mind of the leader of the synagogue. For him, the Sabbath means rules to be kept, a space marked by a large ‘no trespassing’ notice. Human needs, human aspirations, are to be kept out of his seventh day. His line of vision overlooks the crippled woman.

Yet as well as Lenten fast, there is an equally strong sense present in the texts of festival. The Hebrews passage is one set for All Saints: the heavenly Jerusalem, the assembly of the first-born, innumerable angels in festal gathering. Could these be present too on this ordinary Sabbath? 

Isaiah says, “If you call the Sabbath a delight, then you will take delight in the Lord”, and the prophet foresees light rising in the darkness and our riding on the heights of the earth. 

If this from Isaiah were the text the crippled woman heard in the synagogue that morning, its promises must have seemed very far from the 18-year reality of her bent life but …the gospel story concludes with her walking high, seeing the full light of day and praising God: taking delight in the Lord and the entire crowd of them rejoicing: an ordinary Sabbath that becomes festal day. 

I was impressed in the readings we heard at Compline last week from Richard Forster on simplicity that he does not oppose simplicity to richness, to complexity – rather he understand simplicity as our God-given way of appreciating them. 

The synagogue leader has a straightforwardness, a single eye but  it is more blinker than focus, because he does not see, hear, taste life. He thinks he looks up, looks to God but he has no vista, no rich spiritual geography, no truly appreciative simplicity and so no delight in God. In fact, he misses seeing God at work . 

The crippled woman, she has been able to look at only one thing - the ground before her. There can be good reasons for looking down: pacing out the steps to buried treasure; Jain monks avoiding snuffing out the life of ants; simply watching our footing on chancel steps. For this woman, looking at the ground is imprisonment and yet she is the one able to receive riches, she has maintained a simplicity of heart ready to take delight in the Lord. She hears His voice and she is the one who ends up on the heights, rejoicing. 

This is liberation as reversal. How typical of Luke’s gospel, how typical of Jesus, that the leader is cast down and the one who is raised up (yes, there are overtones of the coming Resurrection here also) - the one who is raised up is the lowly woman, the old woman. 

The good news of God, given in all its richness as Sabbath liberates us. 

So, for us as well, our ordinary day, our ordinary Sunday, has wrapped in it intimations of Calvary and of heaven, of the word of freedom and all richness tasted in the simplicity of appreciation. Not hypocrisy, fear and self-serving but delight, reverence and joy in the praise of the Lord.

Oswin Gartside CR