Fr. Bill Carroll – The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, August 21, 2022

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Today we hear a story about Jesus healing on the Sabbath.  And, like other stories of this kind, we need to be careful not to read it in an anti-Jewish way.  For, in the story, Jesus is speaking and acting as a Jew among Jews.  He is reasoning like many of the early rabbis did.  Jesus is the Son of God, but he is also the son of a Jewish mother.  He is immersed in the Scriptures and the traditions of his People—and he is committed to their faithful observance.

An important part of following Jesus is letting him train us to see the world correctly.  When we pay attention to the Gospels, one of the first things we notice about Jesus is who he sees—and how he sees them.  

And so, when a religious leader questions his healing on the Sabbath, Jesus confronts his abuse of the commandment to rest, just like one of the Jewish prophets would.  Jesus is more than the prophets, but he stands firmly in their tradition.  Again and again, he calls his fellow Jews to observe the Torah more faithfully.  He underscores its liberating purpose.  The Torah exists to set us free:  “And ought not this woman,” Jesus says, “a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan bound for eighteen LONG years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day.”

This morning, I’d like to read our Gospel lesson against the backdrop of today’s Old Testament.  These words from Isaiah come from the same chapter we hear on Ash Wednesday.  In fact, the two lessons overlap a little bit.  Throughout the fifty-eighth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet is preaching about “the fast that God requires.”  It is a fast from injustice that God requires:

Is not this the fast that I choose (says the LORD):
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your homes?

Is it not to cover up your kin when they are naked?

The prophet goes on to exhort us to remove the pointing of the finger from among us, as well as the speaking of evil.  He urges us to offer our food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.

Citing this very same chapter, at the height of the eighteenth-century revival in the Church of England, John Wesley once said the following:

Thus, we may observe that [the People] of God in ancient times always joined prayer and fasting together…It remains only, in order to our observing such a fast as is acceptable to the Lord, that we add alms thereto:  works of mercy, after our power, both to the bodies and souls of [human beings]…(And then, he goes on to quote from Isaiah 58):  If (when thou fastest) thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday.  

One modern commentator on the same lesson, Paul Hanson, observes that “Chapter 58 is a classic example of prophetic tradition in the Bible.  Here the fidelity of the Third Isaiah circle to the themes of justice and proper worship developed by Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Jeremiah comes to clear expression.” God says through Amos:  “I hate your festivals and your new moons, because they don’t lead to justice…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness, like an ever-flowing stream.”  It is the same tradition Dr. King quotes in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and elsewhere. 

In other words, Hanson is saying, the prophet teaches us that our worship of God means nothing if it does not lead to justice and loving-kindness.  He then goes on to observe that “Isaiah 58 states God’s will with a clarity that wins the assent of all that is true within us and then goes on to evoke our deepest sense of joy with the invitation to delight in the Lord through worship purified by loving-kindness.”

Delight in the LORD.  This is the joy that Jesus came to bring us.  It is prophetic, life-changing joy.  Jesus came to bring the joy of God’s Kingdom among us, so that blind people might see, lame people might walk, sinners might be forgiven, and the oppressed go free.  Jesus fills us with joy.  And it’s Good News for every prisoner and every refugee.  It is Good News for anyone who has ever been forgotten, hurt, or ignored.

That is what Jesus came to teach us to see.  He came to show us other people, especially when they are suffering—or they have the missing gifts that we need.  And so, in the Gospel, in the clear light of God’s love, Jesus sees a woman bent over for eighteen years, not as someone who should wait for another day to be healed, but as a suffering person who needs God’s help now.  In the same way, he sees various outcasts, not as threats to our purity or safety, but as neighbors we need to befriend.

Likewise, Jesus sees our church—made up of young and old, rich and poor, people of various backgrounds and life experiences—not as an accident but as part of God’s plan. He sees our brothers and sisters—gathered here around the Altar and at the foot of his Cross—not as some accidental collection of People but as an offer from God for our transformation.  We see them as Christ’s offer to set us free—so that we might learn to live as neighbors.  It’s difficult to be a neighbor in this world, because we hurt each other.  Jesus came to show us how.

And he gathered to himself a People out of every language, tribe, family, and nation—a People set apart to see what he sees and to love what he loves.  (That’s absolutely everyone.)  And then he pours his Spirit into our hearts, so that we might learn to love like him.

How we respond to our neighbors is bound up with how we respond to Christ.  And how we respond to Christ is how we respond to God’s Kingdom.  Our neighbors are sacraments of the presence of Christ, who welcomes us all to his Table.