10 Yeshua was teaching in one of the synagogues on Shabbat. 11 A woman came up who had a spirit which had crippled her for eighteen years; she was bent double and unable to stand erect at all. 12 On seeing her, Yeshua called her and said to her, “Lady, you have been set free from your weakness!” 13 He put his hands on her, and at once she stood upright and began to glorify God.
14 But the president of the synagogue, indignant that Yeshua had healed on Shabbat, spoke up and said to the congregation, “There are six days in the week for working; so come during those days to be healed, not on Shabbat!” 15 However, the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Each one of you on Shabbat — don’t you unloose your ox or your donkey from the stall and lead him off to drink? 16 This woman is a daughter of Avraham, and the Adversary kept her tied up for eighteen years! Shouldn’t she be freed from this bondage on Shabbat?” 17 By these words, Yeshua put to shame the people who opposed him; but the rest of the crowd were happy about all the wonderful things that were taking place through him.
Chapter 13 begins with two incidents which are recorded only by Luke, namely Jesus’ teaching about the people killed by violence and accident, and the incident in which a crippled woman is healed on the Sabbath. Both are witness to Luke’s plan of showing the meaning of Jesus journey to Jerusalem: he brings the goodness of God to people in a way that forces them to choose between accepted religious tradition and his distinctive ministry. In this passage, Luke’s Jesus lays bare the terrible corruption whereby a religious leader can respond to the liberation of a human life by saying it has happened on the wrong day. Worse, he actually thinks that God is better served by doing nothing than by sharing his/her goodness.
The Jewish Shabbat was and is a noble custom, providing liberation from work for men and women and animals. The picture given in the book of Genesis of the creator himself resting on the seventh day, gives a great dignity to Shabbat: humans and their God enjoy time out together. There is a question about when this divine rest takes place, however, which is the same as the question of when God’s creation is complete. Is it in the past or the future? In John’s gospel Jesus is quoted as stating that his Father is still working, expressing the belief that God’s great Shabbat will come when the task of creation is perfected. Many of the Jewish Rabbbis interpreted Shabbat as a share now in the kingdom which is to come.
Jesus interpretation of Shabbat is therefore radical but not unique; for him it is God’s gift to humanity of a foretaste of the goodness to come. That makes it a good day to heal. All petifogging piety must give way to the goodness of God in the land of the living.
The image of the daughter of Abraham standing up straight and praising God prefigures Luke’s image in the Acts of the healed man “walking and leaping and praising God”. The glory of God is not an unchanging tradition but, as St. Irenaeus said, “the living person” The robust defence Jesus makes of his action allows people to glorify God while shaming his opponents. The Gospels always present Jesus as having a lively care for the reputation of God; he acts with complete personal authority on God’s behalf.
The Calvinist tradition to which my church belongs states that the chief purpose of human being is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. Too often however it has imagined it could do this solely by worship without any concrete commitment to the liberation of human beings. Even still I can sometimes make this mistake. Luke’s story corrects it.