Summary: The only way we can be transformed and freed is through faith in Christ. That faith will transform us and free us by giving us power to do God’s work in our world-and that is the true spirit of the Sabbath.
Have you ever noticed that every time you turn around, there seems to be another rule for you to obey? Have you ever noticed that some of these rules seem to be foolish? Well, I certainly have in both cases. To make matters worse, there are cases where no exceptions can be made to these rules, even when the exception is justified.
For example, Greyhound bus lines had a rule that no pets were allowed on their buses. One late night at a rural truck stop in Florida, a Greyhound bus driver kicked an 87 year old woman off his bus. Her crime was that she was returning from her birthday party with her present: a tiny puppy named Cookie. The driver refused to make an exception, and so this poor elderly woman was left about 80 miles from her home at 3 in the morning. Can’t you hear the driver justifying his actions? “We have a rule. We have a rule”.
A security guard who was summoned by the driver called the police to escort her away, and that only added to the woman’s fright. What could have been a terrifying ordeal for the woman, who walks with a crutch and has trouble seeing and hearing, instead became an inspiration. After getting her a sandwich and something to drink, police from five different jurisdictions teamed up to ferry her home. “I’ve never seen so many people so nice with me, an old lady,” she said. “They gave me love, respect, attention. Love has a lot of names, “she continued, “compassion, respect, friendliness”. Greyhound apologized and gave her a refund. The unidentified driver, who was a 20 year Greyhound veteran, was suspended.
The synagogue leader in today’s Gospel reading was also obsessed with obeying rules; specifically, the rule about keeping the Sabbath holy. The Jews, especially the Pharisees, were so obsessed with keeping God’s Commandments that they came up with all sorts of rules that governed what they could and could not do on the Sabbath. Included in the list of things that could not be done on the Sabbath was healing a sick person. Healing was considered work, and a good Jew could not do that type of work.
The Law did allow animals to be untied for a few hours on the Sabbath, but the synagogue leader objected to Jesus’ freeing of the bent woman from her bondage on the Sabbath. In other words, in the mind of the synagogue leader, freeing animals from bondage was more important than freeing people from the bondage of sin and illness. By healing the woman on the Sabbath, Jesus’ actions are considered to be within the intention or spirit of the Sabbath, and they enhance Sabbath observance instead of destroying it.
Physical ailments can do far more than bend a back. They can rob us of our livelihoods and cause bankruptcy. They can take us away from our families. They can even cause severe depression. For example, in 1971, in Plano, Texas, a woman by the name of Linda gave birth to a boy she named Lance. She did what many mothers do with boys. She molded his character and temperament by involving him in a variety of sports. He soon showed an aptitude as an athlete and by the age of 13 his skills were confirmed when he won the Iron Kids triathlon-a combination of swimming, biking and running. Three years later at the tender age of 16 he became a professional triathlon athlete. When most children were trying to compete at their local high schools, and entering amateur competitions, Linda’s boy was making money as an athlete.
He worked hard and sometimes his training would take him to the edge of the state to the Oklahoma border where he would call his mom and ask her to come and get him. In one of the three skills of the triathlon-biking-he was excelling beyond the skills of men twice his age and experience. At the age of 18 he qualified to train with the U.S. Olympic team in Colorado Springs, Colorado. His behaviour nearly cost him his high school diploma but private classes were arranged which enabled him to graduate. He continued to excel in his chosen sport and gained recognition around the world, until something happened that made him change his focus.
In 1996, he was forced by pain to quit a race. Tests revealed advanced testicular cancer which had spread to his lungs and brain. The once athletic and vibrant young man underwent three operations and the most aggressive form of chemotherapy. Now his career was the least of his worries. Doctors said he had a 50/50 chance of survival and the cancer left him scarred physically and emotionally. He said that the ailment completely changed his life and his priorities. Sickness, real sickness, rearranges life. But there is more to the story. That young man won his battle with testicular cancer and rekindled his passion for biking. In case you haven’t figured it out, I have just told you the story of Lance Armstrong, seven time winner of the Tour de France biking race.