Bent Out of Shape

Luke 13:10-17

Here’s a quick recap of today’s Gospel lesson.  One Sabbath day Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when he sees a woman who has been bent over double for 18 years.  Jesus calls her over to and says, “Woman, you are released from your weakness.  He lays his hands on her, and instantly she stands up straight, and starts praising God.  But not everybody is happy about this. Now the leader of the synagogue is the one who is getting all bent out of shape.  He thinks healing and/or being healed on the Sabbath is a violation of the law.  “Now is not the time,” he says.  “Come back some other day.”

Why is it that no matter what good thing you’re doing or trying to do, somebody is going to get bent out of shape about it?

When the whole country was bent out of shape with the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to straighten things out with a whole package of programs called The New Deal.  This package included the Works Progress Administration to provide jobs in a country where 24.9% of the workforce was unemployed and those lucky enough to have kept their jobs had seen their income cut by 42.5%.  The New Deal package also included Social Security to provide a guaranteed minimum income for retired workers or those too disabled to work.  

The well-off people of Roosevelt’s own social class opposed the New Deal.  They said that it was Socialism and un-American.  They said that putting people to work with the WPA would put the government in competition with private industry.  Other critics, like Huey Long, said the New Deal  didn’t go far enough or do enough.  Voices from a number of quarters said it was too expensive for a country suffering through a depression.  “Now is not the time,” they said.

When President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to champion the interstate 

highway system, his critics called it “another ascent into the stratosphere of New Deal jitterbug economics.”  People who were concerned about the stability of the post-war economy said that the country simply could not afford it.  “Now is not the time,” they said.

When President John F. Kennedy declared in his State of the Union address in 1962 that we were going to go to the moon and take on other ambitious goals “not because they are easy but because they are hard” and because they would “organize and measure the best of America’s energies and skills,” he summed up his challenge by asking, “If not now, then when?  If not us, then by whom?”

“If not now, when?  If not us, then who?”  

I can imagine Jesus saying that to the synagogue leader who is upset with him for healing the woman who had been bent over for 18 years by “a spirit of weakness.”  

“You hypocrites!” he says. “You’ll untie your donkey on the Sabbath, you’ll let your ox out of its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water, but you don’t think this daughter of Abraham,  your sister, should be released from her bondage on the Sabbath?  What, 18 years bent over in pain isn’t long enough for you?  Now is not the time?  Well, if not now, when?”

“This woman, a daughter of Abraham,” he said “has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years.  Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?”  

Held in bondage by Satan.  The implication of what Jesus was saying was that anyone who would oppose her being freed from the “spirit of weakness” that had been keeping her bent over would be collaborating with Satan.  

There’s something evil about prolonging someone’s pain when you have the means and opportunity to provide relief.  

There’s something evil about prolonging someone’s bondage when you have the means and opportunity to set them free.  

More than 100 million people in this country are now dealing with some degree of medical debt.[1]  62% of those with medical debt had medical insurance when the debt was incurred but found that their insurance did not cover the expensive treatment, meds or procedures they needed.  Some will experience bankruptcy because of medical debt.  Some will lose their homes.  All of them are in bondage to a for-profit medical system.  But when we talk about Medicare for all or some other form of universal health care like the kind every other industrialized country in the world provides for their citizens, the insurance companies all say in unison, “We can’t afford it.  The economy won’t sustain it.  Now is not the time.”  

There’s something evil about prolonging someone’s pain when you have the means and opportunity to provide relief.  

There’s something evil about prolonging someone’s bondage when you have the means and opportunity to set them free.  

We seem to be perpetually caught between factions that want to bring healing to our over-heating planet and forces who are worried about the costs and the changes that would come with fixing the problems we have caused.   As we talk about funding new infrastructure for producing renewable energy, as we talk about ways to make more electric vehicles and make them more affordable so we can reduce the pollution that produces global warming, as we talk about more mass transit, there is a chorus of voices saying, “It’s too expensive.  The economy won’t support it.  The technology is not all there yet.  Now is not the time.”

When we talk about how we can address the lingering and malignant nastiness of racism, and antisemitism, we run headlong into people who want to remove the books and curricula that teach about these things from libraries and schools.  They don’t want their children to feel bad about the way their forbears treated people who were different from themselves.  They don’t want their children to know about our legacy of slavery, and they really don’t want them to know how de-humanizing and violent slavery really was.  They don’t want them to know about Jim Crow laws and segregation.  They don’t want them to know about all the ways that racism is still making life difficult to impossible for people of color.  “They’re just children,” they say.  They’re too young to be exposed to those things.  Now is not the time.”  

Well if not now, when?  If they don’t learn about the ugly hate and violence of our shared past, how will our children know not to make the same horrible mistakes in the future?  How will they understand the hate and violence they still see today?  

And what about the Black children and Brown children and Jewish children and Muslim children who are still living with the challenge of all that racism.  The redlining may be gone on the map but the neighborhoods it created linger on along with their diminished opportunities and services and quality of life.  These children of God have been held in bondage for centuries.  Isn’t it right that they be released?  Isn’t it right that they be freed from the things that have bent their lives out of shape?  Isn’t it right that in the name of Jesus and in the name of our common humanity we should stretch out our hands and help them stand up straight…even on the Sabbath?  If not now, when?  If not us, then who?

How will our children understand how destructive and wrong it is to treat others as something less human, something less than children of God, something less than their siblings in Christ if they don’t learn about it when they’re still young enough to have some empathy?  How will they understand the brokenness of the world they are inheriting from us if we don’t teach them about the mistakes we made?

Yes, they will feel bad about it.  Yes, it will make them sad.  That’s the point.  That’s how they will be moved to do better.  

Those who don’t want to see us address racism and antisemitism and all the other destructive and violent isms that are tearing our country and our world apart try to disparage and belittle those of us who are trying to create awareness and change things for the better.  They try to dismiss us by saying we’re “woke.”  They say it like it’s a bad thing.  

Do you know what woke means?  It’s a term that originated in the Black community.  Woke means you are awakened to the needs of others.  Woke means you are well-informed, thoughtful, compassionate, humble and kind.  Woke means you are eager to make the world a better place for all people.  Woke means you are aware of the systems we live in and how they can produce unequal opportunities and outcomes.

Jesus told us to be woke.  He told us repeatedly to stay awake.  Jesus told us to read the signs of the times.  Jesus told us to pray for God’s reign of love and respect to become a reality on earth as it is in heaven.  

Jesus himself ran headlong into that all-too-human propensity to defend the status quo.  He was continually challenged by people who were upset because he didn’t play by the rules.  “There are six days of the week for working.  Come on those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath.”  But Jesus didn’t think anyone should have to wait for healing or to be set free from bondage.  Not even on the Sabbath.

Today’s Gospel tells us that the things Jesus said to the synagogue leader shamed his enemies.  Nobody likes to be shamed.  But sometimes that’s what it takes to humble us.  Sometimes that’s what it takes for us to learn.  Sometimes that’s what it takes to wake us up.

There is so much that needs the healing, freeing and restoring touch of Christ in our world.  There are so many who need to be freed by the love of God.  When we follow Jesus, we are choosing to do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”  When we follow Jesus, we are choosing “to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills” for the healing of our communities and our world.  When we follow Jesus we are choosing to let the shame of our history teach us to follow a more generous and loving Way through our present time and into the future.  When we follow Jesus we are choosing to help a society that is bent out of shape to stand up straight.  

If not now, then when?  If not us, then who?


[1] Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2022