By James Cornwell
Reading from the Gospel of Luke, 13:10-17
10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11And 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment.” 13When he laid his hands on her, immediately she stood up straight and began praising God. 14But the leader of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had cured on the sabbath, kept saying to the crowd, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.” 15But the Lord answered him and said, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?” 17When he said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus heals a woman whose body has suffered from a “spirit of infirmity” for eighteen years. This healing takes place while Jesus teaches in the synagogue, and (as we have perhaps become too accustomed to expecting) he is promptly rebuked for doing work on the Sabbath. Writing as a teacher, I find it curious that the ruler does not rebuke him for teaching on the Sabbath — something that many definitely consider “work”!
What can we gather here about the vocations of teaching and healing? Most of the scriptural prohibitions of work on the Sabbath refer to activities by which individuals bend nature to some purpose — plowing, shearing sheep, or hunting, for example. What does it mean that teaching is exempt from this prohibition?
Perhaps the reason is that teaching is not meant to bend reality to our wills, but instead to place reality before us in its fullness. There is great liberty that comes with this, but also a warning. At any point, if our teaching slips from being a reverent unfolding of reality and changes into a deliberate organization of facts into a preferred narrative, we are no longer teaching. Preachers beware: Those who teach falsely on the Sabbath are guilty of breaking two commandments, not just one.
What of healing then? The leader of the synagogue mistakes healing for an act of imposed will — human beings forcing their own will on sickness and brokenness. However, Jesus’ healing reveals what healing really is: God’s will; an act of mercy that simply points to the subject of a good synagogue teacher’s teaching, and contains the same blessing that God himself gave on the day in which he rested.
James Cornwell lives and teaches in the Hudson Valley with his wife Sarah and their five children.
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