Our Collective Thriving


Herb Montgomery | August 19, 2022

To listen to this week’s eSight as a podcast episode click here.

The stories this week point us to prioritizing the needs of people to thrive. Survival isn’t enough. We are worth more than that. We are also worth more than a few people in society thriving while the rest of us simply survive (or don’t even do that.) This week’s story also calls us to attend to things that enable all of us to thrive together without anyone being marginalized.

Our reading this week is from the gospel of Luke:

On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

The Lord answered him, You hypocrites! Doesnt each of you on the Sabbath untie your 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?”

When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing. (Luke 13:10-17)

This week, let’s begin by intentionally rejecting antisemitic interpretations of this week’s reading. This passage isn’t a Christianity-versus-Judaism argument against the Sabbath. It represents an argument within Judaism and among Jewish people about what constitutes valid Sabbath observance and what actions violate the Sabbath. Remember, Jesus was an observant Jew remember (see Luke 4:16). It’s telling that this passage ends with all the Jewish people agreeing with Jesus’ interpretation of how Sabbath observance should meet people’s needs. This story is not anti-Jewish, nor is it anti-Sabbath.

In Luke’s Jesus story, there is a social debate on what permissible actions on the Sabbath should prioritize. Judaism has always justified temporarily setting aside Sabbath restrictions for any condition that was life-threatening. So whatever people needed to survive was always permitted on the Sabbath.

In this week’s reading, we encounter a condition that is not life-threatening but that the story paints as preventing the woman from thriving. (I’ll address the ableism about this in a moment.) This story is one of the healing stories in Luke’s gospel that creates a tension of priorities, pitting people’s needs for thriving and not simply surviving against the demands of Sabbath observance. This theme recurs across the canonical Jesus stories (compare Luke 14:1-6; Mark 3:1-6; John 5:1-9; and John 9:1-7).

Economic and Labor Justice

Consider the Sabbath commandment we read in Exodus:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.

Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns.

For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:8-11)

Inherent in the original Sabbath institution was an element of economic and labor justice for workers. Today I would argue that one day is not enough to ensure laborers, workers, or employees are not being exploited. I wasn’t alive in the time of Exodus, but I would guess that it was only a start back then too.

Also notice that the Sabbath commandment in Exodus does not put the onus on children, slaves, animals or vulnerable immigrants to refuse to work for those subjugating them. This would only place undue stress on them, adding moral implications to something which they had no choice about.

No, the commandment is rather addressed to parents, masters, and livestock owners. To apply this to our context: the Sabbath commandment does not tell employees not to work for their employers on the Sabbath. The commandment tells employers not to exploit their employees and not make their employees work on every day of the week. If someone is working on the Sabbath, the person responsible is their employer who demands that labor be done, not the employee faced with the choice between observing a Sabbath or putting food on their family’s table.

As the gospel of Mark reminds us, “The Sabbath was made for people. People weren’t made for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28).

This is a deeply Jewish theme of contrasting people’s strict religious observances with their actions about others’ concrete justice needs. We encounter this contrast of values and priorities all the way back in the prophetic justice tradition of the Hebrew scriptures:

“The multitude of your sacrifices—

what are they to me?” says the LORD.

“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,

of rams and the fat of fattened animals;

I have no pleasure

in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.

When you come to appear before me,

who has asked this of you,

this trampling of my courts?

Stop bringing meaningless offerings!

Your incense is detestable to me.

New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—

I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals

I hate with all my being.

They have become a burden to me;

I am weary of bearing them.

When you spread out your hands in prayer,

I hide my eyes from you;

even when you offer many prayers,

I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

Wash and make yourselves clean.

Take your evil deeds out of my sight;

stop doing wrong.

Learn to do right; seek justice.

Defend the oppressed.

Take up the cause of the fatherless;

plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:11-17, emphasis added)

Today, I think this still tracks. We still see in our communities some of us who can be very intentional about our observances within our religion while we ignore the social justice concerns of others. Christians can sometimes be among the worst offenders in this.

But the last thing to note this week is that this is an ableist story.

The intention of the Jesus story is to portray a Jesus who sought to liberate people from suffering, whatever the form of that suffering. I’m thankful for this. We must also understand our own ableism: it includes the presumption that all disabled people want to be cured. They don’t. Some people who live with disabilities see their disability as part of the variety within humanity’s potential, not as something “wrong” with them that needs to be “fixed.” This can be very difficult to get folks without disabilities to understand. As the colloquialism states, fish don’t know they’re wet. People who aren’t disabled often don’t perceive the assumptions that their own experiences cause them to make about people with disabilities.

Consider that the gospels’ solution is never to change the society that people who are living with disabilities are living in so that they do not experience discrimination, marginalization, or exclusion. The gospels’ solution is always instead to transform the disabled person, to align or harmonize them with their society so that the social, religious, political and economic stigmas attached to their disability are no longer present. The action restores the person with a disability to their community rather than calling the community itself to change and either challenging or rejecting the stigma.

Some will challenge my critique here, and that’s okay. But the question we have to ask in each story is where is change taking place? Is the person with the disability being transformed or is the society those people live in being changed? In some of the stories an argument could be made for both, but in every story the person with the disability experiences a change to remove the stigma applied to them.

This is one shortcoming of the Jesus stories that Jesus followers must acknowledge and it doesn’t mean these stories have no value. What it does mean is that we can still highly value the Jesus story and note where we could do better today. The ethical spirit of Jesus that we love so much also sets us on a trajectory toward telling more life-giving stories that don’t marginalize anyone, including people who live with disabilities.

The stories this week point us to prioritizing the needs of people to thrive. Survival isn’t enough. We are worth more than that. We are also worth more than a few people in society thriving while the rest of us simply survive (or don’t even do that.) This week’s story also calls us to attend to things that enable all of us to thrive together without anyone being marginalized.

HeartGroup Application

1. Share something that spoke to you from this week’s eSight/Podcast episode with your HeartGroup.

2. Share an experience where you were faced with a conflict between concrete physical needs and honoring religious observances or practice. Discuss with your group.

3.  What can you do this week, big or small, to continue setting in motion the work of shaping our world into a safe, compassionate, just home for everyone?

Thanks for checking in with us, today.

Right where you are, keep living in love, choosing compassion, taking action, and working toward justice.

I love each of you dearly,

I’ll see you next week

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