Scripture: Luke 13:10-17
The way we communicate has changed a lot over the years. A good example of this is when we compare political discourse of previous years to what we see today. In 1858 the golden standard of oratory was established when Abraham Lincoln engaged Frederick Douglas in a series of debates. The format of these debates are still used in school debate competitions. The standard of having a resolve to be defended, rebuttals, and back and forth is how all orators are trained today. The Lincoln-Douglas debates are brilliant examples of presenting opinions that are supported by facts and argued in a fully developed, well-articulated way. That is not quite how things are done today. To be honest, if political debates were done in that way today most of us would turn it off after ten minutes. We would find it too boring. For better or worse, we live in the age of the mic drop. We do not want half an hour of beautifully crafted oratory, we want the truth profoundly delivered in 140 characters or less. We do not want an endless back or forth, we want a definitive statement that is so passionate, so profound, and so final that the only thing that can be done afterwards is drop the mic and walk away. A mic drop is when a performer or speaker intentionally drops/throws the microphone on the floor after a performance. The mic drop is a move that has it’s origins in rap music and standup comedy of the 80’s. Some comedians after finishing their set with a furious rant, would just drop the mic and walk off the stage. In the same freestyle rap battles would go back and forth until someone ran out good rhymes, the winner would deliver their final blow, drop the mic and walk. In the past three or four years, though the mic drop has earned a place in pop culture. One of the things that the mic drop signifies is that there is nothing left to say. Trying to get the mic drop soundbite is now the standard of oratory that politicians and other speaks seek, because to deliver words powerful enough to drop the mic , are also words powerful enough to leave an opponent speechless. There is an attitude and ferocity that is associated with dropping the mic. This is also not the kind of attitude and ferocity we would normally associate with Jesus. We like to picture Jesus as smiling while bouncing children on his knee, or maybe tenderly touching the cheek of someone he just healed. We do not often think of Jesus with steely determination, throwing verbal barbs at his opponents, laying a truth smackdown, and then dropping a mic. It may not be our typical image that we associate with Jesus, but scriptures like this morning show that happening. Now Jesus did not have a microphone in this scripture, but if he did he absolutely could have dropped it after verse 16. By examining this scripture, we can learn from the example of Jesus and perhaps see when and where we need to share the truth with ferocity today.
What happened in this story is a surprisingly common occurrence in the gospels. Jesus healed people but they did not care about what day it was on. If the person who needed help came to Jesus on the Sabbath, then Jesus healed on the Sabbath. On multiple occasions this got Jesus in trouble with religious leaders. In the gospel of John, not honoring the Sabbath by healing on it was one of the primary avenues of opposing Jesus the Pharisees took. At first glance we have to wonder how on earth could anyone opposes a miraculous healing? In this scripture, we have a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years. Eighteen years! With a touch Jesus healed her. We have to keep in mind, that in these small towns where Jesus was teaching, were the places where everyone knew everyone else. It was not like this woman was a stranger. The synagogue leader would have known this woman for years, and when he saw the impossible happen before his very eyes, what was his first response? Did he praise God for the incredible nature of the miracle? No, the scripture records that he became “indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath.” This can really make us say, wait. . .what?
It is worth remembering though, that this synagogue leader and the Pharisees were not truly evil villains. In fact they probably saw themselves as the good guys. They were care takers of tradition, and we cannot underestimate how powerful tradition is. It is easy for us to shake our heads out how stubborn and backwards the Pharisees were to oppose Jesus on something like healing on the Sabbath. However, we have to remember in the recent history of our country racial segregation was the tradition, and there were many good church going people who scoffed and were indignant at anyone who dared oppose that status quo.
One of the important traditions in the Jewish faith, even today, is the observation of the Sabbath. One of the Ten Commandments is to keep the Sabbath holy, and the law in the Torah further establishes what that means. In order to follow these rules the Jews built a hedge around the Torah, the established extra rules to follow to ensure that the sacred rules would never be violated. For instance, Exodus 35:3 prohibits the lighting of a fire in a dwelling during the Sabbath. Some Orthodox Jews today interpret this as meaning that light switches cannot be turned on in a house on the Sabbath. There were many so rules even in Jesus day. It was the Pharisees and synagogue leader’s responsibility to uphold the tradition and help others follow them so that the people could best honor God by following God’s rules. This is why the Synagogue Leader said, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” It could be argued that the leader was doing his best to faithfully uphold the tradition.
Jesus though was not having it, and he gets a little salty by calling them hypocrites. Jesus had a couple of good reasons for doing so. First, there is nothing in the Torah that explicitly prohibits healing on the Sabbath. To say otherwise, is to impose a manmade rule on top of God’s rules. Second, Jesus points out that in the multitude of rules about what does constitute work, there are exceptions. In verse 15 Jesus points out that even though it is technically work, people were apparently allowed to take their animals to get life-giving water. In the same way, Jesus healed this woman and gave her life back to her. If someone is allowed to work on the Sabbath for the wellbeing of an animal, then surely healing that provides for the wellbeing of another person has to be permitted. To say otherwise is indeed hypocritical. In this morning’s scripture Jesus exposes that their reason for opposing him is not because of a high flying ideal of honoring God. Jesus exposed that all of the accusations against Jesus healing on the Sabbath were really just personal attacks against him. They felt threatened by the way Jesus challenged tradition and they want to put him in his place. In this morning’s scripture Jesus calls them out on these shenanigans, he drops the mic, and as the scripture says he humiliates his opponents.
Looking at the actions of the Pharisees in the gospels, they end up way off base in their response to Jesus. Perhaps the greatest sin of the Pharisees though, is that they honored the tradition about God more than they honored God. The institution they built up became more important than the God the institution was supposed to serve. This is why when a miracle, a very act of God happened, the synagogue leader could not see past his tradition to see God at work. This is still a danger that we face today. I have had the privilege of getting to know and learning from several seasoned pastors. I have heard their wisdom and I have heard their horror stories. I think everyone will say the most dangerous, toxic, and depressing words that can be uttered in a church is “we’ve never done it that way before.” This attitude shuts down any possibility for change. It shuts down the possibility to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to do something new. This attitude by its very nature preserves tradition above all else. Now, tradition is not always a bad thing and change is not always good. However, I think we need to consider the entirety of Christian history. Whenever, the Spirit moves in a new and powerful way, whenever the gospel is advanced, and whenever a disciple of Christ does something is truly world transforming there is always resistance. There are always voices that get indignant and say “we’ve never done it that way before.”
A good example of this is the experiences of John Wesley. Wesley famously said, “The world is my parish”, and he practiced this by taking the message of the gospels to the fields and to the mines. He preached were people were instead of preaching inside the churches. This was scandalous, and leaders in the Church of England derided him as being improper because that was not the way things were done. Wesley also broke with tradition by authorizing lay people to preach. The clergy were the gate keepers of orthodoxy, and tradition stated only they had the authority to teach about God. John Wesley said, “ “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin, and desire nothing but God, and I care not a straw whether they be clergymen or laymen; such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on Earth.” John Wesley was not the only one who faced opposition. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, also faced stiff opposition. The Salvation Army were ardent prohibitionists, and they got a lot of flak for stirring up trouble in their opposition of alcohol. Booth was willing to entrust women with authority within the Christian aid giving organization. This led a leader, a Pharisee if you will, in the Church of England to declare Booth the anti-Christ for elevating a woman to man’s status. In these instances and every single other person who has taken a stand for the gospel, to live out loving God and loving others, there has been opposition from those who love tradition more than they love God.
Again, there is nothing wrong with tradition. After all we hold to a very long standing tradition. We hold to a Methodist tradition that states God’s love for us is so great that we should live out our lives in response to that love through personal and social holiness. We hold to a deeper Christian tradition that states for God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only begotten son that whoever should believe in him will have eternal life. That’s tradition, and we should hold to and conserve that tradition for all that it is worth. I also realize change for change sake is not always good. The old adage is true, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, we need to always be cautious about tradition. When we oppose an idea, do we oppose it because the idea is against the gospel, or is it against what we are comfortable with? We need to be honest with ourselves, and we need to be willing to evaluate if tradition is more important to us sometimes than loving God and loving our neighbors. When we see tradition winning out over grace, love and the Holy Spirit we need to be like Jesus and we need to be willing to drop the mic and call that out.
So when we are confronted with an idea that bucks up against our idea of what is right, when we find ourselves feeling the huge urge to say “We’ve never done it that way before”, how do we know if we should preserve tradition or invite change? One of the test that John Wesley used to determine if something was from God was by asking “does it bear fruit?” In other words does it transform the world by making it more loving, just, kind, or peaceful? Does the action increase one’s faith and self-control as they love God and love neighbor evermore? Jesus’ healing in this morning’s scripture bared fruit. It was an act of kindness and love that made an incalculable difference in the healed woman’s life. It was an action that glorified God and increased the faith of the people.
May we celebrate our tradition and how that has made us who we are. But may we never be so tied to tradition that we get in the way of what God is doing. May we search our hearts and minds to ensure that we have in mind the things of God, not petty human concerns like our own comfort. May we remember who we are: We are God’s children, redeemed by grace. We are followers of the one true Lord, and our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. May we do that, no matter what. May we be willing to do whatever takes to share the love of God and the good news of salvation with the world around us. May we faithfully follow the example of Jesus so that God is glorified and that we truly do transform the world into a more loving, kind, peaceful, and just place.