July 20th, 2010, 04:19 PM
First reading and Psalm
Alternate First reading and Psalm
August 21st, 2010, 09:04 PM
August 22, 2010
Passage: Luke 13:10-17
What does the kingdom of God look like?
This passage of scripture offers us some pretty obvious contradictory answers to that question.
In Jesus’ day, the opinion of the people who mattered most - the religious leaders, government officials, the wealthy, and almost all of the people with power, believed that the kingdom of God meant one of two things:
1. Keeping things exactly the way they were, OR
2. Following the rules.
And if it seems to you that getting folks to follow the rules is a great way to keep things exactly as they are - well, me too.
The Jewish leadership, concerned about getting along with the occupying power of the day - Rome - wanted to make sure that no uprisings occurred, and no one made too many waves. This meant keeping the lower classes - the rabble - under control. They didn’t want any rabble rousers. They wanted to keep the lower class low - and powerless. This meant making sure that most of them had their basic needs met, but not enough that they could see beyond their everyday sufferings, and dream of more. Getting folks to believe that following the rules was the right way to go was their key strategy. It would maintain the status quo and keep Rome out of their hair.
But there was another reason for following the rules. The Pharisees, those who wanted to be holy, truly wanted the kingdom of God to be evident in Israel. For them that meant making sure that the majority of people followed every religious law, and that those who did not were clearly identified as SINNERS and UNCLEAN. They wanted no compromises and no mixing of what was holy and what was not. Just as the governmental leaders had great justification for keeping the order, the Pharisees had great justification for their actions and attitudes - or at least they thought.
But then Jesus came along.
If other folks thought that the kingdom of God meant keeping the status quo, keeping the civil order, or keeping the cultural order, or keeping some people down, Jesus had another idea.
The leadership of the day would not have had any real problem with Jesus if he had just preached a good word to the poor - to let them know that someday, at the resurrection of the dead - they would be free from their pain and bondage. The leadership would not have liked the sermons, but they would have tolerated them. A little “ pie-in-the-sky, by and by.” It would have been as if Jesus was simply polishing the chains of those who were shackled in bondage.
But Jesus did not see the kingdom of God in that way. He did not see the kingdom of God as just making those in bondage a little more comfortable, a little less likely to cause trouble. Jesus did not come to polish chains, he came to break the chains. He came to set people free. That was Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom of God.
So can’t you just picture this confrontation in the synagogue. Jesus heals the woman, and the crowd goes crazy. It’s a walk off home run in the bottom of the 9th, a touchdown pass in the 4th quarter, a three point basket at the buzzer. The crowd surges forward. The religious leaders have to do something. They try to remind the mob of the rules, get them back under control. Keep the peace. Maintain a holy atmosphere.
But then Jesus speaks up. He reveals his understanding of the kingdom of God. It’s not about rules, its not about maintaining the peace - it’s about God’s love mainfested in the real world. There is no room for hypocrisy when people are in bondage. Pain and suffering demand action, not rhetoric. Jesus calls them out - points out that they care more about their stuff than they do about people. That is not the kingdom of God.
Jesus goes beyond telling the woman that someday she will be free - he sets her free right then and there. She goes from being bent over to standing up straight. She goes from being overwhelmed by the burdens of her plight to being strong and able to be the person she was created to be. Sure, her life was going to be hard. But she now knew who had the power. Not the government - so scared of Rome that it cowered in their presence. Not the Pharisees, who clung to their rules and their own human efforts to be holy. The power belongs to Jesus - and the kingdom of God is at hand.
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