Trinity 10, 2022 – Sermon

Audio recording of this sermon

Freedom at last! This is the commonest slogan in different nations struggling for independence from the oppressors. We hear and admire the slogan because it is at the heart of individual freedom, the most valued commodity in our culture.

Therefore, when we read Jesus announcing freedom to the woman, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment” (Luke 13:12), and laying his hands on her so that she immediately “stood up straight and began praising God” (Lk. 13:13), we understand individual freedom is a free gift from God. 

However, strong opposition resulted from the religious leaders who were concerned about the healing of the woman on the Sabbath. Interesting enough, instead of facing Jesus and questioning him directly, the leader of the Synagogue turns to the crowd for validation of the accusation against Jesus.

Jesus answered the leader of the Synagogue in the plural terms because the religious leader is representative of all Jesus’s opponents, “And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day”(Lk. 13: 16). 

The crowd finally approved Jesus’s position. “When he (Jesus) said this, all his opponents were put to shame; and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things that he was doing” (Lk. 13:17). 

We are reading the most intense scene of conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his time.

As things stand, Jesus has won not only the debate about healing on the Sabbath, but also brought a new era in which the healing miracles are intended to meet the needs of the woman and the crowd, who are both praising God and rejoicing about the wonderful things Jesus has done, granting the woman her freedom from the sickness. 

The identity of the adversary (Satan) that causes suffering to humanity, represented by the woman, and the identity of the woman who has been suffering and is now healed by Jesus have been provided.

This is a deliberate teaching from the author of the Gospel of Luke because from the Christian understanding of the human condition, God created us in his own image with the purpose to be free from pain and suffering because we are destined to be in union with God (Gen. 1:24-28).This relational dependence on God is the first narrative of human condition and the will of God, the creator of human beings with a free will to relate with God and reciprocate God’s love toothers.

The second narrative about human condition is the reality that humanity has fallen from the glory of God, from manifesting the good nature and image given to us in creation because of the disobedience, that is, we have been deceived by the adversary (Satan) to disobey God (Gen. 3)and become sinners.

The third narrative is the affirmation of the goodness of creation and the prevalence of evil as the real and universal condition of humanity, and therefore, the need for the re-creation, where the human conditions at creation should be reversed for us to be freed from the bondage of the adversary.

In short, our understanding of human condition begins with the reality that human beings are created for good purpose and that the cause of suffering is Satan or devil. Christians affirm the prevalence of evil and sin. However, we hope that while we temporarily bear the consequences of evil, there will come a time when God will restore the conditions of humanity to the ones destined in creation. God has already established his kingdom on earth in love for what is good for humanity only for the adversary to distort the intention of creation. The adversary inflicts our minds to do what is contrary to the will of God.

This is a long background to the Christian understanding of suffering, pain and evil that I think is useful for our reflection today. If a friend asks you, “Where is God in …?” and speaks ofsuffering, pain or injustice, you now have the opportunity to begin with their question about suffering, pain and injustice in the world, and share the miracle about the healing of “a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years. She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight” (Lk. 13:11).

You may wonder what God is doing in the world by joining human beings in their suffering and pain. The answer will lead you to Christian justice, the concept that captures the understanding that God is the master of the universe, and whatever happens to humanity is guided by the hands of God. 

What I find reassuring is that rather than be seen as the absence of God, the prevalence of pain, evil, and suffering should draw us closer to God. We long for God when pain, evil and suffering depreciate the image of God in us, the same way we long for light when we experience darkness. 

We long for light for us to see when there is prevalence of darkness that obscures our ability to see. We long for warmth when cold has dominated our environment and we need the heat to disperse the cold. We long for God when evil, pain and suffering misdirect God’s purpose of creation for humanity.

In the above examples, darkness, cold, and pain, evil and suffering are pointers to the need for light, warmth and God, respectively. In Christian teaching, the causative agent for pain andsuffering is evil (Satan). We identify the problem of evil as sin not in the sense that the person who may experience pain and suffering is sinful, but in the sense that sin is anything that puts itself in the place of God. 

We long for God to intervene in other situations that go contrary to our understanding of God.We blame God for the pain, suffering, evil and other things that go wrong in the universe because we think, consciously or unconsciously, that the universe is under the sovereignty and authority of God.

We cannot understand why God matters in our life unless we understand the reality that all the things that matter to us are a testimony of our understanding that God exists as the force that sustains us and the universe in which we and everything created by live.

Jesus, our God the Immanuel, is the surety that God is with us. Christ’s experience is our strength. This is the message of the cross and the power of God. Paul writes: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Therefore, we have the word of comfort from the Lord: “We do not lose heart” (2 Cor. 4:1, 16), because we are in good hands with the crucified, risen, ascended and exalted Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and in the presence of eternal love. 

How do we know this and be bold enough to pronounce the love of God and comfort for the suffering? There are three main sources for Christian consolation in the time of death, pain and suffering. First, we have the promise of eternal life from Jesus, the Son of God who once lived among us in the human flesh, who has promised us that he is going to prepare the house for us (John 14:1-3). When Paul affirms, “We have a building from God, a house not made with hand hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor. 5:1), he is reminding us that death and pain is not the destination for us. We hope for our permanent residency in a different home in which our inner nature is being renewed day by day, the world in which affliction or suffering is only a preparation for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measures (2 Cor. 4:17).

Secondly, we have the assurance of triumph over pain and even death from the suffering, death and the resurrection of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who had once suffered and died, and whom God has raised from the dead (1 Cor. 15:3). The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus are a foretaste of our Christian teaching on suffering, death and resurrection. We are not alone in suffering and pain. 

Thirdly, our responsibility is to please the Lord. God has power of sustaining life and will reward each of us for what we have done in the body, whether good or evil.

Why rewarding us in the body? This is the Christian dilemma for suffering, pain and death: there are two places we are destined for according to the teaching of Paul—either we are here on earth and away from Lord, or we die and are welcomed at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:1-10). 

We please the Lord now because the dead can no longer praise and please God (Psalm 115:17). Only the living beings can praise, bless and please the Lord from this place and for evermore (Psalm 115:18). 

This is what we see the woman is doing because she praises God for her freedom from pain and suffering. Our reward is already determined and decided on earth before we die. Therefore, such miracles, such as the healing of the woman, are foretaste of our understanding of the new creation, the reversal of the work of the adversary, and the onset of the new kingdom in which Christ reigns.

Because our risen Lord reigns and has shown us the way of suffering and hope in the Father, we have the assurance of life in the new heaven and new earth in which we will live together with the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the first fruit of the suffering, dead and the resurrected believers. We know this because the author of the Epistle of Hebrews has written for us about receiving an everlasting kingdom, “since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29).

May God bless us in hope of the freedom we will be granted from different sickness and hurt that the adversary inflicts in us, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.