Read the text here: Luke 13:10-17
Bad Guys and Good Guys – Law & Gospel
Every story needs a bad guy. Right? Certainly if you watch much TV you know that, with the exception of comedies, most shows have some kind of bad guys – even the reality shows! We need someone to cheer for and to cheer against. This past week I attended a conference and the presenter at one point during his presentation started talking about bad guys and good guys using Star Wars characters as examples. For him Darth Vader = bad; Han Solo = good. Except, those of us who are at all familiar with the Star Wars films and franchise know that it isn’t that easy. Darth Vader is actually not all bad, in the end he gives up his life to save his son, Luke (sorry, spoiler alert!); and Han’s popularity (not to mention Harrison Ford’s) was based on the fact that Han was actually a bad boy good guy. Not so cut and dried at all. Nevertheless, we are often drawn to stories with a clear cut bad guy vs. good guy.
This is true when we approach the stories in the Gospel. And in our Gospel for today we think we have a clear cut case. The leader of the synagogue (probably also a Pharisee) = bad guy; Jesus = good guy. That is how we tend to read these stories. But is that really true? Is the Leader of the Synagogue really a bad guy? Jesus heals a woman on the Sabbath – Jesus breaks the law! The Leader of the Synagogue points this out to Jesus. And for that he is condemned, but, you know what - he is right! Jesus has broken the law! "There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day." This is what the man says to Jesus and he is correct.
It might be helpful to remind ourselves that God gave the Law to Moses while the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. During their slavery in Egypt the people of Israel would have been compelled to work 7 days a week for long, long hours – probably building pyramids in the hot sun. A day of Sabbath rest would have been welcomed and celebrated as good news. This gift of the Sabbath was included in the law. And the law itself is a gift. It is a gift to enable us to live in community with love and respect for others. As David Lose has written: “The law matters because it helps us order our lives and keep the peace. The law matters because it sets needed boundaries that create room in which we can flourish. The law matters because it encourages us -- sometimes even goads us -- to look beyond ourselves so that we might love and care for our neighbor.” It is very easy for us to read stories like these from the Gospel as being anti-law, but that is not right. Jesus is not putting down or eliminating the law.
In this story Jesus is offering a reinterpretation of the law. Jesus is not throwing it out, but simply expressing through his actions of healing that there are times when the law must yield to grace and love. If we are so rigid as to allow no grace or exception then the law becomes a burden that will destroy and separate us rather than give us life. Again to quote David Lose: “(The) Law helps us live our lives better, but grace creates life itself. Law helps order our world, but grace is what holds the world together. Law pushes us to care for each other, but grace restores us to each other when we’ve failed in the law. Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God, and while the law helps us make sense of and get more out of life in the kingdom of the world, it must always bend to the grace that constitutes the abundant life Jesus proclaims. For above and beyond all the laws ever received or conceived, the absolute law is love: love God and love your neighbor. Or, perhaps, love God by loving your neighbor.”
If we are honest with ourselves we would have to admit that we might be inclined to identify the Ruler of the Synagogue. For many of us live by any number of absolute rules and too often we can be pretty uncompromising on these rules or laws. These can cover a lot of different areas of our lives – everything from simple matters of life rituals and behavior to the way we choose to relate and welcome others. What are some of the rules or laws to which you are committed? How does grace impact your way of living these laws or rules. Is there room for grace and love? I sometimes hear stories of families where brothers or sisters or parents and children have had a major break over something someone did and years later there is still no openness to forgiveness and reconciliation. In many cases the offended party may have been “right.” (Though not always!) But being “right” – maintaining the rule thus becomes more important than the relationship. And to be honest there are plenty of times when the situation may not be clear cut at all, when an argument for “right” can be made on both sides.
But ultimately this is besides the point. Life cannot be about being “right.” This is the point that Jesus makes to the Leader of the Synagogue. Healing, grace and love must at times mitigate or reinterpret the law in our lives. Ultimately grace is not only a theological point for us to ponder, but it is to be a way of life, a way of living in the world, a way of relating to others.So here are some questions to ponder as you consider this Gospel text from Luke: What are ways that you can integrate grace into your way of being and relating to others? What are the points of the rules or laws in your life that need to be reinterpreted by grace? What is the place of forgiveness in your life? Who needs to be forgiven? Who or what needs to be healed by grace in your life?