Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost | Luke 13:10-17
[Note: There is a link below to the UNICEF website, or you may reach it here. ]
An odd thing happens when you bend to help a child, or reach out to the disadvantaged, the weak , the disenfranchised, the poor, the victims and objects of prejudice and oppression. In the eyes of the oppressors and the prejudiced, you become one of the people you are trying to help. You are labeled, circumscribed, tossed into a category. Objectified.
Bigots always give themselves away, revealing their prejudices by the labels they place on others. They cannot fathom the idea that a person might support, admire, and befriend people who are unlike herself. Insidious, quiet, even otherwise unrecognized bigotry, in oneself or in someone else, can always be identified by the brush used to apply hatred and fear and by the labels applied to other people.
It works like this. Suppose you speak up about helping refugees from Syria or Africa. People who dislike the refugees will paint you either as someone with ties to people from those regions or as someone with a liberal political agenda. Those things might be true or they might not, but it is just as likely that you saw people who needed help, children who lacked proper places to sleep and food to eat, places to be safe, and you decided to help. It doesn’t make you a refugee, though it does make you a decent human being.
Suppose you speak up about discrimination against the LGBTQ community. People who discriminate against or dislike or disapprove of LGBTQ people will decide that you must be part of that community, though you may simply respect them as people, with the same rights and privileges and dignity as yourself, gay or not. While it is an honor to be accepted by the LGBTQ community, supporting gay rights does not make you gay, any more than helping the poor makes you poor, any more than feeding a starving child makes you a starving child, any more than listening to Mozart or reading Einstein makes you brilliant (although it doesn’t hurt.)
A very important point goes along with these ideas, and it is that there is nothing wrong with being a member of any of these groups — except for being one of the group who hate. That is the essential insanity of the response of oppression and bigotry. If you are a refugee, or poor, or a gay person experiencing discrimination, or a child needing food and shelter, you are still, of course and without question, a person with inalienable worth, value, and dignity. Neither my help nor the lack of it can change someone else’s inherent worth and value as a human being.
Identifying that a person’s circumstance needs to be changed—whether it is due to poverty, displacement, discrimination, natural disaster, or even plain bad choices—is a process of recognizing that each person suffering those needs is at least as valued and of at least as much worth in the eyes of God as those people who are able to help change these circumstances.
A woman came to the synagogue on the sabbath. She had been bent over, unable to stand up straight (something basic to humanity) for many years. Jesus called her over, touched her, and healed her. The leader of the synagogue was indignant that Jesus had worked a miracle on the day of rest.
Religion is what happens when we try to control the wildfire of faith.
We might wonder about Jesus interrupting his teaching to talk to a woman, even touch a woman and a sick woman at that, in the middle of a first century male-dominated religious gathering. By the simple fact of being a woman, her standing was questionable. By her being sick, a likewise sick religion would see her as judged by God. Both she and the community around her need healing. Jesus not only does not mind whether anyone takes offense, whether what he does follows the rules and etiquette of the synagogue, he goes out of his way to describe the woman’s ailment as a thing of evil rather than a judgment from God.
The gospels repeatedly tell stories of Jesus reaching out to the less fortunate, of associating with people who were victims of prejudice and discrimination. He befriended tax collectors, prostitutes, simple workers, poor people, housewives, as well and as easily as he associated with Nicodemus, a wealthy member of Jewish society. The prejudices and opinions of any of these people, rich or poor or respected or despised, had no bearing on the worth and dignity Jesus saw in each of them. He did not care what brush they might use to paint him or what labels his critics might use to slander him. The labels and the prejudices they represented remained the problem of the people who used them. Jesus only ever labeled one group—the hypocrites.
Come back on ordinary days, the leader of that synagogue tried to tell everyone. Come back and be healed on a day that is not the sabbath. Jesus thought differently. So long as we see people in need, every day is the sabbath. There is no such thing as an ordinary person, and there is no such thing as an ordinary day.