Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, December 4, 2011
Luke 13:10-14 (10th Sunday of Luke)
The Reading of the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke (13:10-14)
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And just then there appeared a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the Sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.”
I went to bed last night in a quandary. After several days of thinking about today’s Gospel and trying to pound out a sermon, I had come to a dead end. I had nothing to say. Nothing! Remember those dreams where you are on stage and forget your lines? Well, that’s where I thought I would find myself when it came time to preach today except that I had the lines, only they weren’t worth saying! So I woke up suddenly at five, jumped out of bed, grabbed THE ROOTS OF CHRISTIAN MYSTICISM, turned to the chapter on the God-Man (since we are getting ready for Christmas after all) and read this from my beloved Gregory of Nyssa:
“That God should have clothed himself with our nature is a fact that should not seem strange or extravagant to minds that do not form too paltry an idea of reality. Who, looking at the universe, would be so feeble-minded as to not believe that God is all in all; that he clothes himself with the universe, and at the same time contains it and dwells in it?”
Then it occurred to me. Open your mind and see the bigger picture. This little snippet of Gospel is not just an historical event – Jesus walks into a synagogue, teaches, heals an old woman, and excoriates the leader of the synagogue – nothing to see here, move on. But it is not just an example of Jesus defying the law by healing on the Sabbath, setting the synagogue leader’s teeth on edge, laying him out in lavender with the people who were probably sick of the leader’s obnoxious ego, doing a unified cheer at the end. No there is much, much more going on.
In this little, story, Jesus reveals his cosmic nature. His presence is a healing presence to both the woman and the leader and its nature is, as always, Love. To one, his loving presence is paradise, to the other it is hell. The woman receives healing, the leader gets clobbered, but in his chastisement, he too is healed. At this moment Jesus determines our understanding of heaven and hell. Both heaven and hell are God’s love. Whether we are in heaven or hell is determined by our internal state.
The woman’s ego, no doubt, had died a million deaths because of her infirmity and her 18 years of suffering. She seems to have come to grips with her situation so much so that with the great Healer there she doesn’t even ask for healing. Jesus notices and reaches out to her. She, like the Woman with the Issue of Blood, had been humbled by life. If the Lord had not healed her, she would have gone on just the same, at peace with her circumstances.
The synagogue leader needed another kind of treatment. His ego was firmly in place. Life had not humbled him. He held a position of power and no doubt lived a comfortable life. We know this because his reaction to the healing is so strong! He reacts to this wonderful miracle with anger! Why? Because Jesus upset his apple cart. The Lord ruffled his feathers and altered his world. Who would the people now look to for their spiritual needs? He was so sick that he needed urgent car; the spiritual equivalent of surgery, immediate and forceful.
A little note to all of us. The power of our reactions reveals the strength of our egos. I wonder how I would react if a person walked in here in the middle of Divine Liturgy and healed one of you. What would I do? How would I react? I hope not like the leader of the synagogue, “Who are you who disturbs the solemnity of my Liturgy!” I hope not.
Thomas Merton once wrote, “God seeks Himself in us, and the aridity and sorrow of our heart is the sorrow of God who is not known in us…”
Jesus saw himself in the woman and healed her. He could not see himself in the leader so he performed spiritual surgery on him. St. Maximos the Confessor wrote this which explains what Merton means, “Christ is the great mystery, the blessed goal, the purpose for which everything was created…with his gaze fixed on this goal God called all things into existence. Christ is the point to which Providence is tending, together with everything in its keeping, and at which all creatures accomplish their return to God.”
In other words, God is moving all things toward the goal of union with him, little old, infirm ladies as well as prideful and egotistical religious leaders and whatever must be done to bring that about, He will do. Some will experience his lovingkindness as paradise and others as hell, but both are the same and the goal is that everyone will come to see his love for what it truly is, Paradise.