SUNDAY NOVEMBER 27, 2016
HOMILY ON THE WOMAN BENT EARTHWARD
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!
(Introductory remarks deleted. Reconstructed from memory and edited.)
The Gospel this morning tells us that the Lord was teaching in a synagogue on the Sabbath Day. The synagogues were the prayer houses scattered all over Israel. No sacrifices took place there. Sacrifices only happened in the Temple. The Temple was the meeting place of God and man, and one had to go there to offer his birds or sheep for his sins or as simple praise offerings to God. But the synagogues were for prayer and study of the Torah and the other books of the Old Testament. So, Jesus was teaching in the synagogue. There was a woman present there who had an infirmity for eighteen years. Now I’ve always told you that numbers have significance in the Bible. Eighteen. Who here knows their math? What can you tell me about the number 18? That’s right. 3 x 6 is 18. What does it mean? 3 is the number of completeness or fullness. 6 is the number that represents man, humanity, mankind incomplete, mankind without God, without being deified. The Number 666 in Revelation refers to the “Beast,” the “Antichrist” who is the fullness of man without God who will come and attempt to usurp the Messiah’s throne. No, the woman in today’s Gospel is not a forerunner of Antichrist, but she does represent the fullness of humanity’s fallenness. In other words, she represents man, unredeemed. How can we know this? Well, she is bent over, isn’t she? She’s bent over so that the only thing she is looking at is this world, this earth. She does not look up with hope into heaven, she only looks at her feet planted firmly in the dirt.
The Lord calls this woman to Himself. It’s significant that He calls to her. That is His mission, that’s why the Lord took flesh and came to dwell among us. That’s the whole meaning of our celebration of Christmas; God came down in order to call us to Himself. So, what does the Lord do next? He places His hands on the woman and says: “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” He doesn’t ask her to do anything. He doesn’t ask her to say anything. He simply heals her. This is to show exactly what we heard in today’s Epistle reading: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). He healed her, and Luke says, “and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.” She was made straight! Now she could both look up to heaven and look to all those around her. God and neighbor. Do you see how her healing really means her salvation? She was made straight, taken from the Greek word “orthi.”!(Σοφία ορθή!) It’s like what we hear the deacon, or the priest without a deacon. Constantly crying out: “Stand aright!” Orthi! Stand up straight! Stand upright! Don’t be bent earthward! Be righteous, be “upright!” This IS, after all, what “Orthodoxy” really means – to worship God correctly, uprightly. Ortho-doxia.
Next comes the reaction of the ruler of the synagogue. He is angry, in fact, furious. Why? He’s furious for two reasons. One, HE is the leader of this synagogue. Who is this usurper who has come and stolen all of his authority, stolen all of his prominence, stolen all of his glory? He is jealous for his power and prestige. All eyes are on Jesus, and not on him. His pride is wounded. Second, by the time of our Lord’s coming, Judaism, due to the overwhelming influence of the Pharisaic tradition, had become a religion all about “observance of the rules” as defined by those very same Pharisees. It was no longer about a People and their relationship to the Living God. Here we have the Living God Himself standing in the synagogue, saving a person from their affliction, and the ruler of the synagogue merely sees it as a violation of the Sabbath work rules. What a sad religion this has become, and Jesus points this out to him, saying: “You hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath Day loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So, ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound – think of it – for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?”
The warning for all of us is, don’t confuse the rules with the Faith. It’s very easy for us, Orthodox Christians, to get caught up in “the rules.” Why? Because we have a lot of them, don’t we? But we mustn’t forget what the Lord said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27.) That means that the rules, the Canons, the fasting, all of these things are given to us in order to reach the goal, and the goal is a living relationship with the Living God! They are given to us as helps, divine helps to be sure, but they are not straightjackets, or clubs with which to beat out fellow human beings. Fr Seraphim (Rose) warned us against what he called the “super-correctness” or the “correctness disease” of some who seem to put rules, canonical minutiae, and liturgical precision ahead of the Gospel, ahead of faith, and ahead of relationship! The ruler of the synagogue missed the point, and so might we, if we're not careful!
Brethren, let us flee the downward-looking gaze of this world and its fallenness, and run, rather, to the healing hands of Christ Who seeks only to touch us, heal us, raise us up, and make us straight and upright, now and for all eternity. Amen.