Summary: A sermon on how compassion changed the woman with the crooked spine, and how the synagogue ruler's religiosity resisted kindness. Compassion should always win.
Compassion Changes Conditions
I cried when I read the hunchback of Notre Dame. Victor Hugo’s novel is one that stays with you your whole life because we see pieces of each character in ourselves.
In the beginning, we meet Quasimodo, the hunchback of Notre Dame. It is the Festival of Fools in Paris. The crowds elected him the “Pope of Fools” because he was the ugliest person in Paris. They heaved him on a throne and paraded him through the city streets as the crowds mocked him. Then the archdeacon appeared and stopped the parade, and sent Quasimodo back to Notre Dame because someone so hideous should stay out of the crowd's site.
We can relate because we've experienced judgment based on our clothes, zip codes, our color, or weight, and our past. We've had people talk about us, mock our history, or dismiss us because we didn't comply with their ideals.
When you feel shoved aside, remember that you’re in great company. Jesus wasn’t good enough either. The officials marched him down the streets, not of Paris, but Jerusalem, and the crowd called him a blasphemer. Someone else can relate to Quasimodo, and Jesus: The woman in today’s Gospel reading.
For eighteen years, she felt the misery of a condition that no one could cure. They didn't have Tylenol, Advil, or Vicodin. The woman carried the pain and the shame every waking minute for eighteen years.
There’s always someone in need of compassion.
This reading is a story about a woman who needed to feel like someone, anyone, to see her as a person instead of a hunchback.
She didn’t always feel that way; she wasn’t born with that issue. It occurred later, and she suffered the memory of life before her condition. She couldn’t see the rainbows, the sunsets, the birds in flight, or the flowers in bloom. All she could do was stare at the ground.
Some said demons deformed her, some said she sinned, others said God judged her because of her ancestor’s sins. Jesus was different. He knew she deserved dignity and love no matter what disease she suffered.
In so many ways, Jesus was ahead of his time. The American Association for Psychological Science did a study of compassion. It actually changes our brain function. Research showed that empathy activates the pleasure center in the brain. Ultimately, they determined that we are happier when we give to the needy than when we receive. That sounds like a Jesus quote.
Compassion doesn’t just change others, it shapes us too. There is invariably someone in need of mercy.
But be prepared, there’s usually resistance.
There’s always someone who finds a reason to withhold compassion.
In this reading, that man was the ruler of the synagogue. It was Saturday, and Saturday meant worship.
The ruler invited Jesus to his congregation to speak. He knew Jesus was a controversial figure, but the people wanted to hear him preach the scriptures. He hoped Jesus wouldn’t violate the established etiquette and the agreed-upon customary. But Jesus broke the rules, again.
So the ruler publicly reprimanded him because Jesus had compassion on a woman living in bodily torment.
To justify his reprimand, he referred to the Old Testament, “Jesus, there are six other days of the week to heal people, respect the Lord, and heal them then.” Some people miss Jesus because they worship the bible.
Here’s an example: When I was in middle school, my grandparents were “copastors” of a church. They both preached, and the church regarded them as equals. Their denomination ordained my grandmother in the 1960s. The kids in school knew I lived with my grandparents, and they knew that both were pastors.
One day during P.E. a girl informed me, “Your granny shouldn’t be preaching, she might not go to heaven because the bible says women shouldn't teach in the church, so the bible settles it.”
I looked back and said, “You can take that up with Jesus; he's the one who called her, not you.”
The man at the synagogue quoted his bible too. He imposed a verse rather than celebrating the end of suffering for one of God’s children.
Everyone has a battle, and everybody needs the love of God. But there is always someone afraid because compassion gives control and the results to God. Compassion takes power away from them, and like the ruler of the synagogue, they revert to self-righteousness. Be careful, we all have our sins.
The lesson also teaches me that Compassion Changes Conditions.
Jesus reinforced that point when he responded, “This is a daughter of Abraham.” That phrase, “daughter of Abraham,” is unique to Jesus. It does not appear anywhere else in Jewish literature. In the 1st century, salvation came to women through their husbands. But Jesus saw it differently. To him, she was equal, and in covenant with God, like the men.