Sermon: Deliver Me

August 21, 2022

Psalm 71:1-6
Luke 13:10-17

by Eric Anderson

Deliverance is one of the great themes of the Hebrew Bible and of the Christian Bible. The stories of the Old Testament praise God for delivering the people from hopelessness, from famine, from slavery, from ignorance, from the threats of hostile neighbors, from unethical and incompetent leadership, from natural disaster, and from exile. The stories of the New Testament praise God for delivering the people from ignorance again, from hopelessness, from imperial overlords, from pain, from illness, from temptation, from isolation, from the consequences of sin, from death itself.

God delivers – not in the sense of the package at the door, mind you. God delivers people from their deepest sufferings.

Luke made that point rather, um, pointedly in the story of the woman with a spirit that had bent her over. When Jesus announced her healing in verse 12, he didn’t say, “You are healed.” He said, “You are set free” – or rather, he said, “You are loosed.” It turns out that Jesus and Luke used two words of opposite meaning frequently in this story. “Bind” turns up in verse 14, where the synagogue leader used it to describe the people as bound to work on six days, not the seventh. It appears twice in verse 16, where Jesus said Satan had bound her, and that she was bound to be loosed – that’s a more literal translation from the Greek. Variants on the word for loose crop up in verse 12, in 15 referring to setting an animal loose to get water, and in 16 referring to being loosed from Satan’s binding.

The only person in the story to use the word “heal,” in fact, was the head of the synagogue.

Jesus, apparently, and Luke for certain, don’t seem to have thought of this as a question about work and healing in relation to the Sabbath. They saw it as a question of deliverance.

“In Jesus’ view,” writes Ira Brent Driggers at Working Preacher, “since the Sabbath law commemorates and celebrates Israel’s liberation, it ought to be a day for enacting — not inhibiting — the present-day liberation of Israelites.”

Not all people with disabilities, by the way, seek deliverance in this way. I think it is a universal that disabled people seek deliverance from pain. They seek deliverance from ailment. That may not be the same thing as deliverance from disability, because there are other deliverances that can bring liberation. A person with poor vision can be liberated from silent crossing signals. My daughter, for example, has a custom of evaluating stairs as “good steps,” or “bad steps.” Good steps have clear markings on the edges of the tread. Bad steps don’t. She’d like to be liberated from bad steps.

To a person with a wheelchair or walker, deliverance is a curb cut or a handicapped parking space. To a person with hearing loss, deliverance might be a sign language interpreter. To any disabled person, deliverance might be spoken to directly, and not spoken about with their companion.

Jesus clearly discerned that this woman was in pain, and he loosed her from what ailed her.

Most likely this synagogue leader reacted out of a sense of piety and a solid knowledge of the interpretation of the Law – interpretation, by the way, that is continuously ongoing among Jewish rabbis. But there are some things off about it. D. Mark Davis writes at LeftBehindAndLovingIt, “Don’t you just want to smack this guy?”

Well, yeah. Just a little.

But going on: “Surely it is not the ruler of the synagogue’s place to tell God whether to heal or not to heal on the Sabbath. Even more curiously, while he is indignant that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he BLAMES THE WOMAN for coming to be healed (passive) on the Sabbath. And, if a healing occurs, wouldn’t there be some kind of reverence, some kind of wonder, or at least some kind of joy that would prevent a normal person from getting indignant? Everything about this protest is maddening.”

Seriously. He blamed the woman for… coming to the synagogue on the Sabbath. That’s… weird.

Could it be that, as off the man was, he had some insight? Could it be that he realized this woman did have an agenda? Could it be that he was right that she wanted the pain to stop? Could it be that he recognized that suffering people want the suffering to end?

Frankly, I’m inclined to the theory that he was basically blaming the woman, as is a popular approach of less-than-insightful men.

But let’s face it. Suffering people have an agenda.

They want to stop suffering.

It starts with infants, you know. Babies make noise when they’re uncomfortable – when they are, in their limited experience, suffering. Feeling hunger, feeling dampness, feeling cold, feeling hot, feeling empty air about instead of a warm enclosure – these are all feelings of suffering. So when this happens, they cry in the desperate hope that someone is near who is capable of relieving their suffering. Thank God for parents who can feed, change, cover, uncover, and embrace their child.

As we come to adulthood, we have a lot more resources for addressing our own suffering. I can pull up the blanket or throw it off myself. I can also tolerate suffering for longer. I can feel hungry and recognize that dinnertime is not so far off. I can wait. It will come. I can even make dinner, which an infant can’t.

A lot of the things we teach our children are about endurance, getting through the period of time of suffering. We’ve developed routines to set boundaries on routine suffering: regular mealtimes, naps and bed-times. We’ve developed systems to prevent or to end interpersonal suffering: police and courts, employment laws, safety regulations. We’ve created institutions to respond to suffering: medicine, charitable organizations, religions.

We’ve also perpetuated the same attitude expressed by that man two millennia ago, who complained that the suffering woman had an agenda, that her agenda wasn’t appropriate for this day and time, and that it had to wait for another day.

Just wait for another, more appropriate day. It doesn’t seem so bad, right? If you’re the leader, it doesn’t. If you’re the person who has suffered for eighteen years, it doesn’t sound nearly as good.

In 1958 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, “The familiar complaint in the South today is that the Supreme Court’s decision on education has set us back a generation in race relations, that people of different races who had long lived at peace have now been turned against one another. But this is a misinterpretation of what is taking place. When a subject people moves toward freedom, they are not creating a cleavage, but are revealing the cleavage which apologists of the old order have sought to conceal. It is not the movement for integration which is creating a cleavage in the United States today. The depth of the cleavage that existed, the true nature of which the moderates failed to see and make clear, is being revealed by the resistance to integration.”

(The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stride Toward Freedom (New York, Harper & Row), 1958, p. 193.)

When peace requires that one or more groups of people in a society suffer while other groups of people in the society profit, that’s… that’s not peace.

Expecting suffering people to continue suffering because of some notion that this is the wrong time or the wrong place is… mind-boggling. Who wants to continue suffering? Don’t sufferers want to do something about it? Shouldn’t sufferers express their suffering? Shouldn’t sufferers receive aid – as quickly as it can be done – to end that suffering?

Do we really want to believe that people suffer because they deserve it? When it’s so abundantly clear that there’s no relationship between righteousness and success, no equivalence between evil and misery? It’s so clear that a Psalmist asked, “Why do the wicked renounce God and say in their hearts, ‘You will not call us to account’?” It’s so clear that Habakkuk asked God, “Why do you look on the treacherous and are silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they?” It’s so clear that the author of Job asked, “Why do the wicked live on, reach old age, and grow mighty in power?” It’s so clear that Jesus had to explicitly reject the idea in… Luke 13, verses 1 through five. That’s this same chapter of Luke.

No, friends. We need to learn to expect and even welcome the urgency of those who are suffering. We need to lay aside the “Not now, just wait” response which is so often what suffering people hear. It’s fair to say, “I can’t help until I know how” – but if we say that, we’d better start studying how.

Karoline Lewis writes at Working Preacher, “Our way has to be a different way. We have to believe that our way is a different way. The world needs us… The world needs to see that the ways of the church mean willing to heal on the Sabbath. To call out the hypocrites. To name evil where you see it alive and well. To release the captives even in the face of righteous indignation. All for the sake of those who for too long have been bent over by the systems that perpetuate bondage; to say to them, ‘stand up! for you are truly the daughters and sons of Abraham.’”

When the cry was, “Deliver me!” Jesus stood forth to deliver. God has done the same countless times over the millennia. Let us hear the cry to “Deliver me!” with sympathy, with solidarity, and with commitment to see that the suffering receive their deliverance, that they gain the freedom for which they yearn.


Watch the Recorded Sermon

Does Pastor Eric depart from his prepared text during sermons? Oh, yes, he does.

The illustration is Healing a Woman on the Sabbath by Matthias Gerung (ca. 1530-1532), found in the Ottheinrich Bible – Ottheinrich-Bibel, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Cgm 8010, Public Domain,

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on August 21, 2022

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