The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 16
August 21, 2016
The Rev. Glenn Chalmers
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Estimates vary. But one thing is very clear: the level of suffering is almost unimaginable.
Latest reports tell of nearly half a million dead. Most killed directly by violence. So many countless others because of the lack of adequate health services, medicine, lack of food and clean water, sanitation and proper housing.
The news that continues to come out of Syria after five unrelenting years of war is almost numbing. The statistics are staggering and hard to take in. How can we possibly wrap our minds and hearts around this level of suffering?
Last week, the unimaginable became imaginable in a video that went viral. The situation in Syria suddenly became real – all too real – to so many around the world. Not in numbers of dead and wounded, not in carefully gleaned statistics, but in the face of a very young boy.
His name is Omran Daqneesh. The image of him being carried out of his bombed-out home, clinging to the man pulling him from the rubble. The recorded sight of Omran bloodied and covered with dust, waiting impassively without a tear in an oversized chair ill-fitted for his small body struck a nerve around the globe.
It seemed as if what numbers and statistics could not effectively convey was dramatically delivered by this small boy. This scene broke through the consciousness of so many of us who maybe thought ourselves numb to violence, emotionally callous to the scenes of war and brutality that fill the headlines.
This is more than highlighting the tragedy of the Syrian civil war. This is more than putting a human face on war and violence. It speaks, I think, to another truth: we are touched most profoundly not by the general, but the specific. Not by lofty concepts, but by flesh and blood.
So it is with our faith.
The compassion and love of Jesus is not presented in some ethereal way. It is not conveyed in some general statement or some grand idea. It is shown to us in flesh and blood: in a woman whose daughter is gravely ill, in a desperate man climbing a tree to see Jesus, in a blind beggar and in a poor widow offering her meager treasure, in sisters grieving over the death of their beloved brother.
These are the stories that our Gospels leave us. Tales of compassion that demonstrate the love of Jesus in ways that a mere statement can never fully reveal.
Today’s Gospel presents us with yet another.
How does Luke tell it today? “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…”
Jesus was teaching and he noticed this woman. This woman was crippled, “bent over.” She did not ask to be healed. She did not try to make her way through the crowd with an urgent request. She did not attempt to desperately touch the hem of his robe in hopes of being healed.
Luke – with a scant four words – conveys so much about the compassion of Jesus: “he called her over…” Jesus noticed her.
Despite protest, Jesus heals her. And heals her on the Sabbath. He broke the rules and put human welfare over religious obligation. Compassion triumphed over religious technicalities and custom.
Jesus then went back to what he had been doing – teaching. – In the following verses in Luke, he asks a question, “What is the reign of God like?” In noticing that ‘bent over’ woman and in his act of healing, Jesus had already shown what the reign of God was like. Words, ideas, teaching were coupled with action; with flesh and blood.
Henri Nouwen once described living the Christian life as simply this: “loving Jesus and loving the way Jesus loved.”
If we are called to love Jesus and to love the way Jesus loved, today’s story in the Gospel is more than another illustration of God’s compassion. It also gives us a model of what it means for us to be the church – the Body of Christ. – As a community and as individuals, every one of us meets the “bent-over woman’ in our everyday lives.
He is the refugee who comes to our center who has fled the violence and bloodshed of his home; seeking healing and hope, affirmation and acceptance.
She is the person struggling with disease and looking for companionship and understanding.
She is the young person tormented with the knowledge that she is somehow different and fears being ostracized and rejected.
She is the person whose faith or whose background elicits talks of walls and division, exclusion and rejection.
She is the mother of a young black man who is yet another victim of violence spawned by racism. Who is weighed down by grief and who still yearns for justice.
These are so many ‘bent over’ and pressed down. There are people who are weighed down and bent over by loneliness and grief, anxious about difficulties, burdened by doubt.
The bent-over woman in today’s Gospel doesn’t ask for healing. She lives in the shadows, easily forgotten in the crowd where so many pressed-down people so often live.
But Jesus noticed and reached out.
As followers, we are called not only proclaim hope with words but also to embody it. To notice and to reach out to those ‘bent down’ among us.
We gather this morning as people of hope. As people who proclaim the love of God. Who wait for God’s Kingdom to come among us in a fuller way.
In the meantime, we who love Jesus try to love as Jesus loved. Helping one other to rise up – like that bent-over woman in today’s Gospel story. We do so not because we have the answers, not because we know the right way to respond to those beaten down among us. We do so because of one reason: we too have been noticed and we too have been embraced by God.