“The Day Jesus Quit Church”
Preached by Dr. Robert F. Browning
Calvary Baptist Church
I don’t know how long it took her to walk into the synagogue and take her place among the women. Her days of getting anywhere quickly faded years ago. For eighteen years she had struggled with a debilitating back disorder that left her helplessly bent over when she stood or walked.
Waking was difficult. Sitting was uncomfortable. Standing was at times unbearable.
I suspect Jesus watched her as she slowly made her way into the synagogue. He was sitting in front of the crowd teaching and could clearly see what a struggle it was for her to get anywhere.
I think Jesus was as impressed with her devotion and determination as he was heartbroken over her physical condition. He interrupted his lesson and called her forward.
“Woman, you are set free from your infirmity,” Jesus said. (13:12) Then Jesus put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
You would think everyone would be happy for her and grateful for what Jesus had done. Who would not rejoice with her and her family?
Luke tells us. The leaders of that synagogue were not a part of this celebration. The ruler of the synagogue even stood up and delivered a stinging rebuke of Jesus and warning to the people gathered for worship.
“There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” (13:14)
This ruler and other leaders of that synagogue were furious over Jesus’ violation of laws that prohibited any kind of work on the Sabbath, including healings. To them, what Jesus did was inexcusable and indefensible.
Jesus had grown accustomed to this kind of resistance from the leaders of other synagogues. He was not surprised by their response and public denunciation of him. But neither was he going to let it go unanswered.
“You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (13:16)
They got the message, and so did the people listening to Jesus. Luke said Jesus’ opponents ended up being the ones humiliated while the people rejoiced over Jesus’ ministry in their community.
There are three main characters in this story. I am impressed and inspired by two of them. On the other hand, I am disappointed in and disturbed by the third one.
To begin, I am impressed with this woman. For eighteen years she had been faithful to honor the Sabbath by attending her local synagogue. Every time she came, she was in pain, the kind that burned, ached and cut her like a knife.
Yet she came. She never missed as long as she could get there.
I am impressed with her devotion to God and loyalty to her local synagogue. Obviously, her faithfulness to God did not depend upon God doing what she wanted. This is because her faith was built upon an unwavering trust in God to provide what she needed each day to manage whatever came her way.
By this time, she had learned to look to God for strength, courage, stamina, willpower, determination, wisdom, guidance and the ability to persevere. If healing was not in her future, the gifts she needed from God to live with her chronic illness were, and for these blessings she was grateful.
Impressive, isn’t she, as many others I know just like her.
I am also impressed with Jesus’ compassion and courage in this story. Surely, he knew he would be criticized and condemned as he had been in other synagogues. Why would he subject himself to public ridicule and danger one more time?
His ministry wasn’t about him. It was about the people who needed him, like this dear woman. Her welfare was more important to Jesus than his reputation, comfort or security.
Jesus decided in the desert when he was tempted at the beginning of his ministry that he was sent to stand with the poor and to heal the bruised. Nothing was more vital or necessary, not even Sabbath rules.
As far as Jesus was concerned, there was no wrong time to do the right thing. People were more important than sacred traditions. Concern over the suffering of fellow human beings took precedence over obligations related to keeping the Sabbath.
As impressed as I am in our text with this woman and Jesus, I am disappointed and disturbed by the president of the synagogue who chose to humiliate and to discredit Jesus instead of rejoicing over what he did for this deserving lady.
When did he decide to value rules and regulations over his neighbors? When did he come to believe God was more pleased with his enforcement of long held traditions than making hope visible to those who lived with pain and in despair? How did he justify his priorities after reading the prophets, who always sided with those who had been beaten and bruised by the harshness of life and needed help to survive?
What would I have preferred to hear the leader of the synagogue say that day? It would have been nice had he asked Jesus’ permission to invite others to come forward who needed to be healed so Jesus could make them whole, too. He could have offered to take Jesus to the homes of some of his neighbors who were too sick to come to the synagogue so Jesus could heal them. What a difference this would have made in the lives of those entrusted to his care.
He did neither that day. Instead, he chose legalism over love.
Why do you think Luke included this story in his account of Jesus’ life and ministry? Perhaps he had a two-fold purpose.
He wanted his readers to know this incident had a profound influence upon the way Jesus continued to minister to the people he was called to love and to serve. Because of what happened that day in that synagogue, which was similar to other experiences in neighboring synagogues, Jesus decided to interact with people outside the walls of a synagogue. From this point forward, his ministry would be conducted in the homes of people who needed him and in the streets and countryside where people could get to him.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus never enters a synagogue again. This was the day he quit church. He continued to do the work God sent him to do by making hope visible to those struggling to survive. He was just not going to do it in the community’s traditional gathering place, the synagogue.
Can you blame him? From the beginning of his ministry, Jesus faced his fiercest opposition to this divine mission in a synagogue due to what he said or did.
The first time Jesus entered his hometown synagogue in Nazareth after being baptized and embarking on this prophetic and pastoral ministry, he was asked to read scripture and to speak. Contrary to what you would think, this did not turn out well.
After delivering his inaugural sermon, he was run out of the synagogue by an angry mob. The religious authorities and many of his neighbors chased him to the top of nearby hill where they intended to throw him over to his death. (Luke 4:14-30)
On another occasion, Jesus went to a synagogue in a neighboring town where he healed a man who had a withered hand. Once Jesus saw this man, he interrupted his teaching and ordered this man to stand up. “Stretch out your hand,” he said to the lame man who now had everyone’s eyes locked on him. When the man did as Jesus commanded, his hand was healed.
The reaction of the religious leaders in that community? They were furious with Jesus for ignoring Sabbath laws which prohibited work of any kind during that day of rest. Immediately, the religious authorities began discussing what they were going to do with this rule breaker and trouble maker to silence his voice and to end his ministry. (Luke 6:6-11)
Going to the synagogue as was his custom was becoming increasingly difficult for Jesus. Instead of worshiping God and making new friends, Jesus found himself being criticized, condemned and threatened.
“Once more,” he must have said to himself. “I’ll give it one more try.”
According to Luke, he did, and guess what? This experience recorded in today’s text was no different than previous ones.
So, in Luke’s gospel this was the last time Jesus entered a synagogue. Jesus wasn’t giving up on God or this transformative ministry. He was strategically focusing his attention upon the people and places where he could be most effective.
Do you recall what Jesus said to the disciples the first time he sent them out to minister in nearby communities? “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.” (Matthew 10:14)
Sounds like Jesus took his own advice.
The other reason I believe Luke included today’s story was to encourage his readers, second and third generation Christians, to establish and to develop the kind of churches Jesus would be happy to attend and support. And what would those churches look like?
They would be filled with people who value love over hate, serving over being served, sacrifice over self-indulgence, truth over deception, justice over injustice, inclusion over exclusion, generosity over greed, humility over arrogance, forgiveness over revenge, healing over hurting and peace over violence.
They would be filled with people who confront evil, right wrong, lift up the lowly, find the forgotten, liberate the oppressed, heal the sick, feed the hungry, house the homeless, comfort the grieving, love the unlovely, forgive people who make mistakes, give people another chance to achieve their potential and teach people how to live peaceably with one another.
They would be filled with people who remain faithful to God in good times and bad, are known for their compassion and courage, seize every opportunity to lighten the load someone is carrying, stand with the poor and heal the bruised, give themselves away in service to others and think there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.
Let’s always strive to be this kind of church at Calvary. If we are, I not only think it will please and honor Jesus, but it will also attract a new pastor eager to lead and to mobilize Calvary Baptist Church to be the presence of Christ in a broken and hurting world.