Isaiah 58, Psalm 103, Luke 13
Resilience is a word I’ve thought about this week. I heard a school principle in the north country state it as her theme for the upcoming school year: “Give kids a chance to succeed at something hard so they develop resilience.” It rang a bell. So I looked it up in Webster.
Resilience: 1) The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Toughness. 2) The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape. Elasticity. (Please! Tell my knees about that.)
The thesis I propose is that the resilience for the people of God comes from living out Jesus’ Greatest Commandment or rule for living: Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. Matthew 22:37 and our lessons for today.
Isaiah 58 teaches about resilience. Israel, God’s chosen people, have become, in the prophet’s time, a society of haves and have nots, the rich getting richer, the poor sinking into the mud. It looks like God will turn his back and send them back into slavery in Egypt where they made bricks for Pharaoh and lived on straw. But, says the prophet, there is a better way:
“If you satisfy the needs of the afflicted, if you offer your food to the hungry, then your light shall rise in the darkness, and you shall take delight in the Lord. And I will make you soar upon the heights of the earth.”
Love the Lord, Isaiah is saying, love your neighbor as yourself, and you shall have resiliency. You’ve gotten bent out of shape, but you can spring back. True for Israel, true for us.
In Psalm 103 we read: “The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. The Lord forgives iniquity and redeems lives from the pit. Bless the Lord, Oh, my soul…”
For God opens the way to resilience. Love God, love your neighbor, that’s the key.
Then Luke’s Gospel: We meet a woman afflicted for 18 years with a crippling spirit. Bent over, spine twisted, life distorted with pain. It reminds me there’s a recurrence of polio, the scourge of my childhood in the 1950s, taking place. I remember my classmate, Nona Miller, who clanked when she walked from the braces on her legs. Thank God for the polio vaccine! There was no knowledge of viruses or bacteria in Jesus’ day, no Dr. Salk. Afflictions like polio were understood to be demonic infestations. But in the law of Moses there were provisions of quarantine. There was an understanding that disorders such as the woman suffers could be catching: “No! No! Jesus. Healing is for another time or place. There are six other days. Not for the sabbath, not for the assembly of the faithful.” An expression of the rule of quarantine.
A reasonable rule, we might say. If someone in your family tests positive, stay home next Sunday. Common sense.
But Jesus is making a different point. Jesus is messing with their minds. Jesus is reaching back to Isaiah and the prophesy of resilience: “Satisfy the needs of the afflicted. Offer food to the hungry. And you will soar!”
His words ring with the authority of a prophet: “Hypocrites” he says, “you’d water your ox on a Sunday but deny healing to this Daughter of Abraham.” Jesus is busting the equation of “Woman” and “Ox”, Jesus is dismantling the inherent male dominance of his time, which is his higher purpose. Jesus is insisting, “Woman is not a beast of burden. Woman is the heir of Abraham and fully equal to her brothers.”
I will never forget a visit to Portugal in 1991. I was training for a marathon, running every day. Early one morning, leaving our hotel outside Cascais for a training run, I saw a little cart come rolling down the street. A man was seated in the cart, puffing contentedly on a cigarette while up front, between the traces where a horse or donkey belonged, there was a sweat stained woman, probably his wife. In Afghanistan girls are being sent home from school and prohibited from attending by the Taliban, who believe the man’s place is in the cart, while the woman pulls. In the U.S. women with life threatening pregnancies are crossing state lines as fugitives to get life-saving abortions. Men make the rules, women obey. Fetuses outrank mothers, who, after all, have a duty to bear children no matter what. And in this lesson, Jesus is saying “Enough!” No more will women, “Daughters of Abraham,” equal in status and dignity to their brothers, be treated as beasts of burden or as second-class citizens. The journey Jesus started continues, and we each get to play our part.
Jesus is loving God, loving himself, and loving his neighbor. He’s loving God by remembering God’s promise to Isaiah, that a society will prosper and thrive to the degree that a society cares for its neediest members, remember? “Satisfy the needs of the afflicted. Share your food with the hungry. Your light will shine in the darkness and you will soar on eagle’s wings.”
Jesus is loving himself. As a blessed and treasured child of God, he is not afraid to take a stand next to the bent and disfigured woman, connecting her destiny with his own, connecting his destiny with the hurting men, women and children of his day and time. Loving himself, God and neighbor, Jesus knows that there are times when one law needs to be set aside in order to satisfy a higher law. Jesus is willing to stake his future on the premise that God require nothing less than “liberty and justice for all”’ women AND men, native AND foreign born, abled AND differently abled, queer AND straight, human AND creatures of the forest, field and lake.
Today is a very precious and special day, people of God, because today we welcome Henry Meserve Kunhardt and Beatrice Wilde Kunhardt into the family of the church, the family of Jesus. Two more visitors from the future who will carry the good news of God’s love and justice for all people and for all creation into times and places we can only imagine. As we welcome them into the family we pledge them our love and support. May we, together with them and their family, build resilience by loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves. In Jesus’ name,