Sunday 21st August 2016, Trinity 13, morning

Luke 13:10-17

by Revd Chris Palmer

So, could I have a couple of volunteers, please?

One stands on the ends of a long scarf, with the scarf around the back of their neck – so they are bent over and can’t stand upright. How are you feeling?

One hold donkey mask, and is tied to the altar with a rope around their ankle.

Let’s remind ourselves of the story.

Jesus is in the synagogue. There’s a woman there who’s been bent over for 18 years. And Jesus calls her to the front at releases her. He heals her of her illness, releases her from her bondage.

Set the child with the scarf free! How’s it feel being free after all that time?

You’d think that was good news. But there was a synagogue leader there who had judgement in his heart: ‘he shouldn’t be healing on the sabbath’.  But actually what he said was, ‘Come and be healed on another day.’  Notice how he didn’t address his criticism to Jesus, but to the woman. It’s easy to judge those who are vulnerable.

But Jesus defends her, by asking about their donkey. ‘Don’t you untie you donkey on the Sabbath and lead it to drink water?’

Release the ‘donkey’ also.

And if working to release the donkey is OK on the Sabbath – how much this daughter of Abraham, who’s been tied up for 18 years!

Indicate each of the volunteers as this is said.  Then thank them and invite them to sit down.

That synagogue leader was ‘right’ – according to the law. But Jesus was the loving you. And what the story shows us is that being right is no match for being loving. [1]

We have a compulsion to be right – at least I know I do:

  • Politicians want to be right. I remember a political adviser telling me that politicians wanted to know what has the ‘right’ think to do, whilst all that advisers could offer was better or worse options.
  • We want to be seen to be right. So if people criticise us we can get self-defensive, self-justifying, even angry. I’m like this especially with my family. I leap to my own defence, feel hurt if I’m criticised, protest my innocence. And if we really are wrong, we beat ourselves up about it, and are often the last people to forgive ourselves.
  • And we want to tell others what’s right. We lecture people from our high-horse. Someone once described it to me as playing ‘Genius to Idiot’: ‘I’m so knowledgeable , and I’m going to tell you what you, ignorant person, ought to be thinking…’ We sound priggish. I'm bad at this too - again especially with my family. (Of course, there’s an irony in preaching a sermon against lecturing people, I know!)

We imagine that ‘right’ is the opposite of ‘wrong’. But what if ‘right’ has become the opposite of ‘loving’?

In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus chooses being loving over being right. The law says, don’t work, don’t heal on the Sabbath, but Jesus loves the woman and frees her anyway.

Jesus  bent over womanHave a look at this picture of this story. It was painted a couple of years ago by a Dominican nun, Sr Barbara Schwarz. [2] Look at how Jesus bends to meet the woman. It is a picture of incarnation, of God who leaves heaven to share our human living. He stoops to be with us.

And this is a clue to the difference between being ‘right’ and being loving.

  • Being right is the high ground from which to look down on others. Being loving is the low ground on which to meet with others
  • Being right is the safe place in which we guard ourselves against criticism. Being loving is the vulnerable place in which we are open to criticism.
  • Being right is the judgement seat from where we condemn others. Being loving is to stand as the advocate, ready to defend others.

This week I my attention was caught by this phrase in a book I’m reading: ‘… ask yourself “What could go right?” instead of wrong.’ [2]

Gosh! There’s an irony here. The people who want to be ‘right’, spend their whole time asking, ‘What could go wrong?’ – to guard against mistakes. The loving thing to ask is ‘What could go right?’ This is the adventurous question, the attitude that wants to take risks because it might just go well. It is a large, open-hearted question. It is the loving question.

To be loving is about true self-examination, that is kind to ourselves – rather than spending our time examining others or loathing ourselves.

To be loving is to take risks in practical ways. It might mean getting involved in politics, in order to campaign for the vulnerable. It might mean choosing to strike up a conversation with someone different from yourself, whom you’d usually avoid. It might mean listening to those who are hurt, even those hurt by us – and really listening, rather than plotting our response whilst the other person is speaking. It might mean practical volunteering – at the night shelter for the homeless, or at Faith in Action drop in, or at the Refugee advice drop in (starting at Holy Trinity in September). These are just some local opportunities; there are plenty more.

So I encourage you this week: Don't ask 'What is right?' but rather ‘what is the loving thing to do?’


[1] Inspired by this tweet from Jill Segger

[2] See here

[3] Brian Draper, Soulfulness: Deepening the Mindful Life, p 96