Jesus often gets in fights with religious authorities—the scribes, the leaders of the Synagogue, the Pharisees and the Sadducees.
In fact, if you’re a religious leader you can almost be guaranteed to get in a fight with Jesus.
Think of that for a second—God shows up in human form and the people who pick a fight with God are the religious ones.
That’s because Jesus reveals bad religion.
And it’s worth remembering that.
It’s worth remembering that, because we too are religious people.
One of the dangers of reading about the conflicts Jesus had in his time, is we keep them there.
We spend needless time railing against those religious hypocrites without checking ourselves.
The danger is, it becomes a religious leader of a church—the pastor—and the religious people of the church—the assembly—reading about the religious leaders and religious people of Jesus times, without reflecting on our own sin.
For that reason, this week and next week, as we read about two particular conflicts Jesus gets into with particular religious people—I want us to reflect explicitly on what these conflicts might say about our own misuse of the faith.
I want us to reflect upon “Our Bad Religion.”
Yes, Jesus reveals bad religion, and it would be foolishness on our part if we didn’t include our own simultaneously saintly and sinful faith in this revelation.
Our Bad Religion.
Jesus is teaching in the Synagogue on Saturday, as a good Jewish religious figure is want to do.
And there is this woman, who for 18 years was crippled,
was curved in upon herself… her body was so fully twisted that in the Greek the description of her infirmity itself is twisted and convoluted—a pretzel of grammar—warped words.
And Jesus takes that pretzel, and changes it into praise.
A hunched over question mark, and makes it an exclamation point.
She praises God for her healing—for 18 years of slavery becoming liberation.
And an argument erupts!
The religious folk, want to fight about Sabbath rules, about Blue Laws, about what you can and can’t do on the Sabbath!
And the argument that follows is actually quite interesting, something religious folk of the time debated.
In fact, it’s an argument we find right in the Old Testament, when it tells of the 10 Commandments.
In the book of Exodus the 3rd commandment—keep the Sabbath Holy—is justified by a description of God creating the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th. That’s the starting point for the leader of the synagogue’s argument.
God worked for 6 days, and rested for one. If that’s good enough for God it’s good enough for us!
In the book of Deuteronomy, however, the 3rd commandment is justified differently. It is justified in this way
—you were slaves in Egypt, and didn’t get to rest then—you know what it’s like to be worked to death and you’ve been liberated from that bondage to slavery in Egypt. Act like it.
This is Jesus’ response to the religious folk’s attack—there is no better day to release this woman from her bondage of 18 years than the day in which we rest from the bondage of slavery in Egypt.
Additionally, Jesus brings up a common rabbinic debate about whether you can untie donkeys and oxen on the Sabbath. He seems to know what side the Synagogue’s leadership falls on, that they are on the more liberal side that allows for sustaining lives of livestock on the Sabbath.
To make it plain, it’s okay to liberate livestock from their stockades on Saturday.
Then he argues from small to large—if a cow can be freed from it’s fence, how much more can this woman be freed from her bondage and bending and oppression by the devil!?!
But, as fascinating as this argument is, between Jesus and the Leaders of the Synagogue—how rooted it is in arguments of the time—how Jesus skillfully argues in favor of this woman he’s healed—focusing on the argument is the very problem Jesus has revealed.
This is an example of Our Bad Religion.
They have before them a concrete example of God’s goodness, that God has freed this woman from 18 years of horrible disfigurement.
Yet they prefer to debate religion.
They prefer to use it as a way to get one over on their opponent—in this moment Jesus.
In short, they are too busy fighting to see the Goodness of God right in front of them and praise God for it.
Praise God like this woman is doing.
In a way, it’s like reading comments in an online news article.
For example, I was reading a news article online about Antoinette Tuff,
the lady who talked down, and prayed for, a gunman who was intent on murdering children at an Atlanta elementary school this last Wednesday.
It was a fine article—very uplifting—a story worth praising God about.
But then I got to the comments section at the bottom.
People were arguing guns. Arguing politics—even politics from 2 decades ago. Arguing Race. Arguing Religion. Arguing Divorce. Arguing about EVERYTHING. Because they just wanted to argue.
They could have been so overjoyed that those 500 rounds of ammunition didn’t find 500 targets—but instead, they argue.
And, that’s just what these leaders of the Synagogues wanted to do—argue instead of praise God.
That’s what Jesus ends up calling them out for, even as they argue. That they ignore God’s loving action even as they fight.
And that’s their bad religion and it can be Our Bad Religion too.
Take a moment—think of a time you’ve done such a thing?—Arguing Religion instead of praising God.
I’m guessing you have—I know I have.
To these leaders of Synagogues, and to us here today, I want to say.
Praise God for finding us when we’re bent-in-on-ourselves—sinners that we are—paralyzed by our own self-centered nature.
Praise God who is the salve for our scars of cynicism and self-righteousness.
Praise God for straightening us out when we get bent up.
Praise God for Jesus’ miraculous healing on the Sabbath and for the faith of Antoinette Tuff on Wednesday.
Praise God who hears not our babble and our noise—our sound and our fury, but instead the clear voice of His beloved Son.
Praise God who is faithful to us despite our bad religion.